This article discusses the causes, symptoms, and treatment of cholera for the outbreak. Take proactive steps to prevent infection through safe water practices and proper hygiene, lowering the risk of this life-threatening illness.
Keep yourself and your family safe
Around the country, the numbers of people getting sick with cholera and stomach flu are on the rise. Many have been admitted to hospital and some people have even died from the disease. To date, cases of cholera have been reported in the Free State, Gauteng, and Limpopo provinces.
The situation is so serious that the Department of Health has asked the public to take all precautions possible to prevent contracting cholera. But what exactly is cholera and what do we need to know in order to ensure we are able to manage the disease?
What is cholera?
Cholera is caused by a bacteria that can be found in unsafe drinking water or contaminated food. Eating or drinking food or water that contains the bacteria can cause an infection in the stomach. This quickly leads to diarrhoea which means the body loses important fluids. An outbreak of cholera can easily and quickly kill thousands of people, especially children. Cholera outbreaks usually occur when the water and sanitation supply is unclean and contaminated.
What are the signs and symptoms of cholera?
Generally, people become ill between 12 and 48 hours after they have been exposed to the bacteria. Cholera symptoms can vary from mild to severe.
Some of the common signs include:
- Diarrhoea. Cholera causes very watery diarrhoea which is described as “rice water” because this is what it looks like.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Dehydration. Too much fluid is lost because of diarrhoea and vomiting, and this can cause dehydration. Signs include extreme thirst, dry mouth, urinating less frequently and dry skin.
- Muscle cramps. Cramps are caused by dehydration and mostly occur in the legs and stomach.
Dehydration needs to be treated quickly, especially in children and infants. If not, it can rapidly lead to death.
How to treat cholera
If you suspect you or a member of your family has cholera, or if you have any of the symptoms of cholera, take action immediately.
- Contact your clinic or health care professional for advice.
- Don’t take medicine unless it has been prescribed by a healthcare professional.
- Stay hydrated. You need to replace fluids as soon as possible, especially in children.
- It is best to use an electrolyte solution powder, which is available over the counter in your local pharmacy.
- Give the child a little liquid often. Too much liquid at one time might cause vomiting.
- If you do not have a rehydration solution then you can make your own. Add eight level teaspoons of sugar and half a teaspoon of salt to a litre of boiling water. Mix well and when the water is cool give small amounts frequently to the patient.
- Don’t worry if the patient doesn’t want to eat, it is much more important to take in fluid.
How to prevent catching cholera
It is possible to lessen your risk of getting cholera by doing the following:
- Keep food and water safe.
- Boil all your drinking water, or use chlorine tablets in your drinking water. Never drink water from rivers, dams, streams or jojos without boiling it first.
- Make sure that all fruit and veggies are carefully cleaned in boiled drinking water before preparation.
- Make sure that food is prepared in clean and safe conditions and make sure that food is stored safely.
- Practice good hygiene. Make sure that you and your family members wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before preparing food, before eating food, after going to the toilet, and after touching rubbish or animals.
The cholera outbreak in South Africa is a serious problem. Do your part by keeping yourself and your family safe by recognising the symptoms, taking immediate action, and doing everything you can to prevent getting the disease.