For much of human history, populations have periodically been culled ruthlessly by epidemics of cholera. One of the worst swear words in Polish used to be ‘kolera’. This is a devastating disease that can kill in literally hours if untreated, and it is now making a resurgence throughout the world after some years of relative quiescence.
What Is Cholera?
Cholera is a disease of the large intestine caused by a bacterium, Vibrio cholera. It is passed along by food or water that has been contaminated by infected fecal matter. When one is infected with the bacterium, within hours extreme diarrhea can begin. Perhaps only 5% of those who pick up the ‘cholera bug’ become extremely ill, but without treatment death can occur quickly from dehydration.
While cholera is basically unknown in the North America and Western Europe, it is still endemic in many parts of the undeveloped world. India, parts of Africa, Hispaniola, and some countries in Southeast Asia all record cases of cholera each year. In fact, over half a million cases of cholera were reported in 2011, accompanied by thousands of deaths.
Cholera also became an issue in South America when Peru experienced an outbreak back in 1991, and underscored the lack of sanitation in countries fairly close to home. Cholera spread from Peru to nearly every country in South America, with over 1 million people affected and resulting in almost 10,000 deaths.
Although cholera is a horrific disease, it is quite easy to treat, and usually oral rehydration is all that is needed to cure the patient. Intravenous rehydration may be necessary in some cases and antibiotics can be used as a backup.
Safe Traveling in the Third World
- Those travelling to less developed countries must take steps to protect themselves from cholera. Even if there are no reported cases where you are heading, it’s only intelligent to bring along the means of assuring that you will have safe water to drink. Iodine or chlorine tablets or crystals will kill cholera in drinking water. Follow the instructions to the letter that are included with the tablets. Because iodine can leave a disagreeable taste to the water, use tablets designed specifically to remove the flavor after the water has been treated
- Using a water filter should be considered a necessity when travelling in an underdeveloped nation. Make sure that the filter is designed to remove bacteria, and use filtered water for brushing your teeth and washing your face and hands. Be sure that your international medical insurance also has a provision to allow you to be evacuated should you become ill – the medical facilities in Third World countries are generally substandard.