Cholera is a serious infectious disease caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae, which affects the intestinal system of the body. An infected person experiences severe vomiting, explosive diarrhea, and severe dehydration. Without immediate medical treatment, this illness may result in death within four to 12 hours after symptoms begin. Due to a large loss of body fluids, the disease is gruesome in the way that it leaves survivors in their physical appearance, as well as in the biological toll it takes on the body.
The bacteria that causes cholera is very contagious. It is spread by the unintentional consumption of infected feces that contaminate food and water, and it can also be spread through human to human contact. Some people have also been infected with it by eating raw or undercooked shellfish.
The disease is easily treated with fluids and antibiotics. When antibiotics are unavailable, which is commonly the case in areas that are plagued by the illness, a simple mixture of water and glucose for rehydration is life saving. It usually resolves itself after a period of time; the danger is the severe dehydration that quickly causes death.
Similar to the bubonic plague that has showed its face time and again, cholera is suspected to be an ancient disease. It has unquestionably reoccurred in seven pandemics since 1817, including in Europe and the United States. The most recent pandemic began in Asia in 1961 and continues to the present day in Africa.
In developing countries, cholera is prevalent in areas that do not enjoy sanitary living conditions because of poverty and a lack of resources. In pandemic regions, even sanitary conditions may not prevent further outbreak. Many people do not receive information on how the disease is spread, fear seeking medical help, or simply do not have access to any kind of treatment.
Cholera is not common in developed countries due to the availability of medical treatment, regulated heath standards, clean water, and effective sewage systems. Cases in developed countries are often the result of raw shellfish or people who have contracted the illness while traveling. Those traveling to countries that have epidemics should take careful precautions to prevent infection.
Precautions for travelers include boiling water before drinking or washing, or treating it with chlorine or iodine. Frequent hand washing with clean water, especially after using the toilet, is imperative. Travelers are also advised to ensure their food is fully cooked and hot, peeling their own fruit, and avoiding raw vegetables, including salads. Raw and undercooked shellfish should also be avoided.
Cholera is a disease that causes social stigmas and stereotypes in epidemic areas. Indigenous peoples who commonly fall victim to it fear the status of social outcast more than the disease itself. Throughout history, communities that have had outbreaks are marked as diseased and dirty even after they are no longer at risk for spreading the bacteria.