Healthy Living

What Causes Cholera?

What Causes Cholera?

Key Takeaways

  • Cholera is a highly contagious disease that mainly attacks the human intestines along with other organs in the body.
  • Cholera has been reported as a threat, especially in underdeveloped countries, where there are rare or inadequate essential facilities like clean water and proper sanitation.
  • Contaminated water has been the number one cause of infection.

Cholera is an infectious disease that causes thousands of deaths each year and inflicts tremendous pain in areas where it has been reported. The infection is a great menace that has been disturbing human kind. However, this does not mean that cholera is everywhere or that it cannot be treated. The infection is curable.

The biggest challenge that comes with cholera is its mode of transmission, progression, and the symptoms that accompany the infection. The disease has the ability to spread very fast within a short period of time once it is reported in an area. For this reason, it is important for health officials to take preventive measures once they detect an outbreak of cholera in the area.

We discuss the disease below so you can get to know some of the most important things about cholera including its causes. After reading, you will also understand any risk factors around you that may cause the infection, as they will help you keep away from the disease. It is vital that you seek medical attention right away should you find yourself experiencing some of the symptoms.

What is cholera?

Are you wondering what exactly cholera is? Cholera is an infection that mainly attacks the human intestines along with other organs in the body. The intestines are just the most immediate organ affected by cholera before it starts affecting other parts of the body. It is an infectious disease that can rapidly spread without proper management and can claim several lives at the same time.

For this reason, if you are affected by cholera, you need to take preventive measures to avoid spreading the infection to others. There are several outbreaks of cholera that have often been caused due to the fact that the patients and their loved ones did not practice good hygiene and did not take any preventive measures. As a result, the secondary victims often turn out to be the patient’s immediate family members and friends, which causes the infection to spread further, resulting in a cholera outbreak.

Cholera has been reported as a threat, especially in underdeveloped countries, where there are rare or inadequate essential facilities like clean water and proper sanitation. It is known as a major threat in parts of India and Sub-Saharan Africa. However, it doesn't mean that the infection can't affect people in developed countries or areas as well. The disease has been reported in parts of the United States, although measures are being applied to control the infection.

One of the main reasons for the spread of cholera in underdeveloped countries is poor sanitation and often, stagnant pools of water that act as the medium of transmission, causing an outbreak to flare-up. What makes cholera so dangerous is the speed with which it can spread. In as little as 48 hours, it can affect a whole community. In underdeveloped nations, people tend to live in clusters, thereby making it easier for the disease to quickly spread to the whole populace.

What is the origin of cholera?

Cholera has been affecting human beings for decades. The disease is caused by a bacterial infection. The bacterium that causes cholera is called Vibrio cholerae

Vibrio cholerae has the ability to survive in different environments. It easily changes its survival mechanism to adapt to its current environment. As a result of its adaptive behavior, cholera infections increase and spread quickly once it is reported in an area. Vibrio cholerae is also known to have very high breeding abilities. It can breed at any place, especially in the human body.

As a result of the organism's infectious nature, its spread and the impact it can have on the patient can be quite severe, leading to a complete collapse as well as bleeding from all orifices in the body.

Causes of Cholera

Cholera is caused by the intake of the Vibrio cholerae in the body. The bacterium can get into the body of a person through a variety of ways. Upon exposure to the bacteria, it only takes a short time for the infection to become active in the body. Various sources of the bacteria and causes of the infection include: 

1) Contaminated water

Contaminated water has been the number one cause of infection. The reason is that water is a commodity widely used by all people. Once you have consumed water that has been contaminated by Vibrio cholerae, you get the infection. The fact is that potable water is turning out to be a rare commodity in densely populated areas, and as a result, all it takes is for a single source of water to be infected for it to affect the whole community.

There are a number of ways through which water can be contaminated with the cholera bacteria. One is when water comes into contact with feces from an infected person. The vibrio cholerae bacteria are easily carried in the feces of an infected person. They can survive and even start breeding in the feces. Intake of this water automatically causes the infection. For this reason, it is very important to boil drinking water before its consumption, as boiling can kill the bacteria.

The bacteria can also be found in surface and well water. Since the bacteria has the ability to survive for a very long time, stagnant water can easily be contaminated and will remain a source of the disease. In areas where there is poor sanitation, surface and well water are easily contaminated. Once you come into contact with this water and you have an open sore or wound in your feet, it can become easily contaminated and before you know it, you would end up having cholera.

In relation to water, there are different water sources that can cause the infection. They include:

  • Surface water from a cholera-infected area - It would be advisable to avoid touching water from a cholera-infected zone. Avoid any drinking water since it is in all probability infected with the cholera organism.
  • Water from municipal supplies - Water sometimes passes through sewage areas, which can result with it being infected by cholera.
  • Water sources close to sanitation and sewage facilities - Chances are that these water sources are loaded with the cholera organism since it had come into contact with sewage and human feces.

2) Contaminated street foods

In the instance of a cholera outbreak, contaminated street foods are a major cause of new cases of the infection. Foods and drinks sold by vendors on the street are known to have the highest chances of being the source of cholera. These foods are always sold in open air. For this reason, the bacteria can easily contaminate the food and spread the disease.

While it is advisable to boil all water before using it, most vendors use it directly resulting in the particular food item being infected. Moreover, street foods are often cooked in extremely unsanitary conditions and in open air, making them susceptible to cholera and other infectious organisms, which is why you need to think twice before opting for a roadside food stall for your meal.

Street foods and drinks also have access to many people passing by. Some may have the infection while others may not. As a result, they can also highly contribute to the spread of cholera.

3) Poorly cooked foods

Proper cooking of food is important when it comes to cholera prevention. The Vibrio cholerae bacterium is capable of surviving in an environment with a high temperature. This means poor cooking of foods can also give the bacteria the ability to survive and gain access to the body. Some of the foods that may be carrying the bacteria are those grown in areas close to a sewage system. Foods also grown with contaminated water can cause the infection.

You need to make sure that you cook all your food properly and at high temperatures, so that all bacteria are killed and cannot sustain for long. Clean raw ingredients by washing them thoroughly and then cooking the food with sustained exposure to high temperatures.

4) Feces from an infected person

Cholera bacteria can survive and stay dormant in the feces of an infected person. They are highly transferable, and touching or coming into physical contact with infected feces in any way can lead to an infection. In most cases, this situation can happen in areas with poor sanitation.

People treating cholera patients are also at a high risk of contracting the infection through their feces. Clothes from these people may also be carrying the bacteria and cause new infections.

It is very important that you wear disposable masks and gloves when visiting a patient with cholera. And after the visit, remove all your clothes and get the same washed at extremely high temperatures to kill off any of the cholera organisms that may have been transmitted to you.

5) Seafood

Vibrio cholerae is a bacterium that has been found to breed and live in some sea creatures. Once the animals are harvested from the sea, they carry the bacteria with them. It means that poor cooking of seafood can transmit the bacteria to humans.

So the next time you opt to cook fish, prawns, or any other seafood, make sure that you clean it up properly, and wash it thoroughly before cooking it. Do not undercook seafood as it can pass on the cholera organism to you.

6) Raw vegetables and fruits

Fruits and vegetables grown in areas with the Vibrio cholerae bacterium are known to carry the bacteria. Intake of raw vegetables can get the bacteria into the body. Consuming fruits from such areas can also cause cholera. Fruits should be washed thoroughly to remove possible bacteria. 

Make sure that you clean and wash the fruit and vegetables thoroughly before consumption. Wash the fruits using hot water before eating. In the case of vegetables, cook them thoroughly.

7) Contaminated fluids

Cholera bacteria are also carried in most body fluids of an infected person. Touching or coming into contact with these fluids can spread the infection. That is why you need to take extra precautions when visiting an infected person. Always wear a disposable mask and gloves during your visit. Make sure that you keep your gloves on at all times since the disease is highly infectious.

Touching the patient's bare skin can also let you become infected, which is why close body contact should be nonexistent between visitors and cholera patients. And remember, contact with infected body fluids from a patient can be equally, if not, more infectious, so care should be taken when cleaning the patient and all materials should be burned to avoid infecting others.

The Bottom Line

Cholera is a highly communicable disease, but fortunately, it is possible to avoid the infection. Since it is highly contagious in most cases, people find themselves suffering from the infection without knowing that they have it. The causes of the infection are many, but they can be controlled.

It is important that you seek out medical attention should you find yourself experiencing some of the symptoms. You need to get yourself tested at the earliest and opt for the most effective course of treatment for the condition.

To ensure that you take control of your role in contracting the infection, make sure you steer clear of all risk factors associated with the cholera bacteria. To prevent cholera infections caused by water, make sure that you boil drinking and cooking water properly, or use chemicals to treat it. Cooking foods properly can help eliminate the causes of cholera that arise from contaminated foods.

It is essential that you purchase food items from reliable sources and get them cleaned thoroughly before cooking. Make a point of reading the labels on the food items when purchasing, since those past the expiry date are in all probability contaminated and can cause the spread of other infections.

Always ensure that you pay attention to the signs and symptoms of cholera. In the case that you identify any of its symptoms, visit a doctor as soon as possible for treatment. Your doctor would advise you of the treatment options and may even advise a hospital confinement for a short duration, so that your condition can be monitored round the clock.

It is vital that you get yourself tested out at the earliest and should you leave your condition untreated, it can get progressively worse and start affecting your overall health. The good news is that this condition is entirely curable and can be effectively managed once an effective diagnosis is made.