Causes and symptoms of cholera

Cholera is a type of bacterial infection and is caused by Vibrio cholerae. The condition is caused due to eating or drinking substances contaminate with bacteria.  Symptoms include watery diarrhea, dehydration, thirst, fever, muscle pain, and rapid heart rate. Diagnosis is done through physical examination, stool culture, and rapid dipstick test.

Types

The type of cholera depends upon the severity of the symptoms. The severity of the symptoms is evaluated on the basis of frequency of diarrhea, the extent of dehydration and severity of muscle cramps.

  1. Cholera infection without symptoms: This type of infection does not cause any symptoms and the patient suffering from very mild severity contributes to the spread of the disease.
  2. Mild cholera: The patient suffering from mild cholera experiences mild symptoms such as mild to moderate diarrhea, thirst and muscle pain. The patient may also experience nausea and vomiting.
  3. Severe cholera: This type of cholera has severe complications. The severity of the disease is such that patient may undergo severe dehydration due to high frequency of watery diarrhea. Painful muscle cramps accompany and sometimes the patient may experience shock. The other symptoms of severe cholera are seizures and coma.

Causes

Cholera is an infectious disease caused due to the infection of Vibrio cholerae bacterium. The bacteria spread due to poor hygienic conditions such as contaminated water and improper sewage channel. Following are the ways through which this bacterium can cause infection:

  1. Contaminated water: Drinking the water that is infected with Vibrio cholerae leads to cholera. The person living near to the river is at high risk of developing cholera by drinking water without proper treatment.
  2. Contaminated food: Food from street vendors may cause cholera as the water they are using may be infected. Further, the food grown in farms which are in contact with sewage water may also get contaminated. Further, the fish and seafood which are caught in the water polluted with sewage also carry a high risk of cholera.
  3. Improper sewage channel: Improper sewage channel is one of the largest cause of spreading cholera as the fecal bacteria rapidly multiplies and infect the potable water as well as the farms which spreads the disease.

Symptoms

Following are the symptoms experienced by the patient suffering from cholera infection:

  1. Diarrhea
  2. Nausea and vomiting
  3. Dehydration
  4. Muscle cramps
  5. Rapid heart rate
  6. Thirst
  7. Seizures
  8. Coma
  9. Fever
  10. Severe drowsiness
  11. Shock

Ways to diagnose

  1. Stool testing: Stool culture test for Vibrio cholerae is the gold standard in the diagnosis of cholera. A small amount of stool of the patient is taken and spread on the culture place containing a nutrient medium. This nutrient medium, containing protein and sugars, is specifically designed to allow the growth of Vibrio cholerae. The culture is then kept in an incubator for bacterial growth and the test report is used to conclude the presence of cholera.
  2. Physical examination: Physical examination of the patient also gives a preliminary idea about the presence of the disease. Symptoms such as severe diarrhea, muscle cramps, and dehydration may indicate the presence of cholera.
  3. Rapid dipstick test: Sometimes, in the far-flung areas, a stool culture is not available. In such cases, dipstick tests are performed for diagnosing cholera. Although not as accurate as lab cultures, these tests give an idea about the presence of the disease so that the early outbreak of the disease can be prevented.

Risks if neglect

Following are the complication of unmanaged cholera:

  1. Severe diarrhea: Cholera is a progressive disease and unmanaged cholera may lead to severe diarrhea. Severe diarrhea results in expulsion of essential electrolytes from the body causing further complications such as muscle pain.
  2. Dehydration: Severe diarrhea also results in dehydration and the patient feels thirsty, fatigued and malaise. Other complications of cholera include low blood sugar as well as kidney failure.
  3. Cardiovascular complication: Untreated cholera results in cardiovascular complications such as rapid heart rate and shock. The patient may also experience hypotension.
  4. Nervous system complications: Seizures and coma are complications related to nervous system that occurs due to cholera.

Stages

Following are the stages of cholera:

  1. I Stage: This stage is the primary stage and is known as the first collapse. This stage has mild symptoms such as mild diarrhea and mild fever.
  2. II stage: This stage is characterized by the presence of nausea and vomiting and the frequency of diarrhea increases.
  3. III Stage: This stage is characterized by the presence of increased watery diarrhea. The patient feels dehydrated and suffered from high fever. Further, the patient at this stag experiences rapid heart rate and muscle pain.

Foods to eat and avoid

Foods to eat:

  1. Plenty of water
  2. Coconut water
  3. Citrus fruits
  4. Onion and garlic
  5. Honey
  6. Bitter guard
  7. Guava
  8. Peach flowers

Foods to avoid:

  1. Avoid unpeeled fruits and vegetables.
  2. Avoid unpasteurized milk.
  3. Under cooked fish.
  4. Fishes and seafood caught from polluted water.
  5. Food from street side vendors.

Prevention tips

  1. Maintain proper hygiene.
  2. Always drink filtered water.
  3. Eat properly cooked food.
  4. Get vaccinated.
  5. Take a healthy diet.

When to see a doctor

Book an appointment with your doctor if:

  • You have high frequency of diarrhea.
  • You feel severely dehydrated.
  • Symptoms do not subside even after taking medicines as directed.
  • You have high fever and muscle pain.
  • Any other symptoms which causes concern.

Do’s & Don’ts

Do’s

  • Wash your hands prior to eating or drinking.
  • Eat properly cooked food.
  • Take medicines as advised by healthcare professional.
  • Drink plenty of water to remain hydrated.
  • Always eat peeled fruits and vegetables.

Don’ts

  • Do not defecate in open ground or in any water body.
  • Do not eat any food from road-side vendors.
  • Do not eat food obtained from polluted water or polluted farm.
  • Do not ignore any symptoms of cholera or another disease.

Risks for specific people

Children below the age of 5 years, pregnant women and people with compromised immune system are at risk of contracting cholera. Also, people with type O blood group and reduced stomach acid are more prone to cholera.