Cholera is a disease of the human digestive system and it is passed from person to person through the drinking if infected water or eating food infected with the cholera bacteria. Cholera is caused by the bacterium Vibrio Cholerae which is a comma shaped gram negative bacteria.
Cholera is usually contracted when the feces of an infected person or persons comes into contact with food or a water supply but cholera has been know to exist in non feces infected brackish water. However cholera has also been know to be contracted by eating raw shellfish which can be infected with cholera. Some coastal areas including the Gulf of Mexico, the west African Coast, The east African Coastline, parts of the Brazilian coastline and parts of the South China Sea coastlines are renowned for having cholera infected shellfish. It is suspected that the pumping of raw sewage into the sea is responsible for this phenomenon.
Cholera is very common in areas which have poor treatment of sewage and drinking water. Many cases of cholera infection are very mild but other instances may be very severe. The disease is caused when the bacteria produce cholera toxin which inserts itself into the cell walls of the cells which line the small intestine. It acts as a very efficient chemical water pump which draws vast amounts of water into the lumen of the small intestine.
The bacterial infection which causes cholera is not very dangerous in itself on condition that the symptoms of the disease are well managed. It is the symptoms which present the danger. Persons infected with cholera have been know to be seriously dehydrated within one hour from the onset of diarrhoea, can go into shock within three hours and can die from severe dehydration in the space of twelve hour if they do not receive proper medical attention.
If properly managed the body can wash the disease out in the space of a few days. the main problem with cholera is re infection. If there is no clean water or uncontaminated food to be had the cycle continues. The main impact of cholera is on the elderly, the very young and people who may already be weakened by malnutrition or another disease. The main treatment which is now used to combat this disease is oral re hydration therapy. Re hydration should be started as soon as possible. In very severe cases a drip may be needed in addition to oral re hydration therapy. Medical staff who are used to treating this disease and in using this technique have saved many millions of lives especially in the developing world.