Cholera: understanding the disease, symptoms and prevention

Photo: EzumeImages via Getty Images.

Photo: EzumeImages via Getty Images.

Published May 29, 2023


Prof Ronald Green-Thompson of the KZN department of Health, applauded the Jik donation initiative to fight cholera, implemented by Camilla Singh, a director of KPMG Forensic Accounting in KZN and Phumlani Mkhize, a manager with KPMG's Forensic Accounting business unit.

In light of the recent cholera outbreak in Gauteng and the Free State, I thought it prudent to scour the internet to offer you an in-depth look into what exactly the virulent disease is, what causes it and how we can prevent future outbreaks.

As of May 27, cholera-related deaths stood at 24 deaths were recorded in the Gauteng and one in the Free State.

The national department of health said more than 170 of patients had been seen at the Jubilee District Hospital.

All come from the Hammanskraal community, the epicentre of the cholera outbreak in the country.

The World Health Organization said cholera is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium “Vibrio cholerae” which manifests itself primarily through two key symptoms: severe watery diarrhoea and vomiting.

Affected individuals often experience frequent, profuse bowel movements, resulting in rapid dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Other symptoms may include abdominal cramps, nausea and fatigue. The severity of symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening.

Healthine explains that once the bacteria are inside the human body, the cholera bacterium attaches itself to the lining of the small intestine, where it releases a toxin.

This toxin triggers the excessive secretion of water and electrolytes, leading to the characteristic diarrhoea.

The rapid loss of fluids and electrolytes can result in severe dehydration, causing a decline in blood pressure, muscle cramps, and even organ failure if left untreated.

Cholera is primarily transmitted through the consumption of contaminated food and water with contaminated water sources, such as those tainted with faecal matter, serving as breeding grounds for the bacteria.

Improper sanitation practices and inadequate access to clean water greatly contribute to the spread of the disease, especially in impoverished communities and regions with inadequate infrastructure.

Preventing cholera requires ensuring access to clean water and proper sanitation facilities. Water sources should be protected from contamination. Appropriate water treatment methods, such as chlorination, should be employed.

Adequate waste management practices must be implemented to prevent the contamination of water sources. Promoting personal hygiene is vital. Regular hand washing with soap and clean water, especially before handling food or eating, can significantly reduce the risk of infection.

In areas where cholera outbreaks occur, prompt identification, isolation and treatment of infected individuals are essential. Oral rehydration solutions are administered to replace lost fluids and electrolytes. Antibiotics may also be used to reduce the duration and severity of the illness.

Cholera remains a significant health concern in South Africa and globally. Understanding the symptoms and its impact on the body, as well as the modes of transmission and preventive measures are crucial in combating the spread of the disease.