Cholera

05 February 2013

What is cholera?

Cholera is an acute illness that results in profuse watery diarrhoea. It's caused by a bacterium, Vibrio cholerae, an organism that lives in fresh water.

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Cholera is an acute illness that results in profuse watery diarrhoea. It's caused by a bacterium, Vibrio cholerae, an organism that lives in fresh water.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there are 3-5 million cases of cholera annually with 100 000 - 130 000 deaths.  In 2009, 221 226 cholera cases were reported to the WHO.

About 206 serotypes of cholera have been identified. Although many serotypes can cause cholera-like symptoms, only serogroups O1 and O139 are associated with widespread epidemics.

Under normal circumstances your gut absorbs water and nutrients from the food you eat and drink. When you are infected with the cholera, the bacterium releases a toxin that causes increased secretion of water and chloride ions from the intestine, which results in watery diarrhoea (up to 20 litres in a 70kg adult). If the diarrhoea goes untreated, death can result from severe dehydration and shock.

(Previously reviewed by Professor Willem Sturm, Head of the Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases department at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine in Durban)

(Reviewed by Dr Miscka Moodley, Microbiologist, UCT, March 2011)

 

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