Cholera is one of the most feared of infectious diseases, and with very good reason – cholera can cause such extreme dehydration from diarrhea and vomiting that it can cause a person’s death literally within hours.
Cholera is a swear word in Polish and the number of people who have succumbed to this awful disease over the centuries probably numbers in the hundreds of millions. Even in the advanced 20th Century, millions of people have died of cholera, most of them in India.
Cholera is not an outdated, happened-long-ago-in-the-past disease, it is alive and well in many parts of the world. Just this last January, Cuba had a cholera outbreak that sickened dozens of people. India is still the epicenter of this disease with thousands of cases being reported every year. Even more alarming than the incidence of the disease itself is the emergence of a cholera super bug that resists conventional antibiotic treatment.
Water is the most common means of transmission of the cholera bacterium, and it passes from person to person in fecal matter. Inadequate sources of clean water are responsible for the spread of the disease in parts of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. However, the emergency of cholera in Cuba demonstrates that the disease can surface in even relatively modern societies.
The treatment for cholera is quite straightforward – a round of antibiotics combined with fluid replacement. If adequate medical care is available, cholera has a very low death rate. However, regardless of mortality statistics, the best thing to do is to avoid cholera in the first place.
Purifying Drinking Water
- There is really no reason to fear traveling to countries with unsafe water if you take some precautionary measures first. A number of water purification options are available that will provide you with water that is free of cholera bacteria, as well as other pathogens.
- Water purification tablets can be used to effectively kill cholera bacteria. Tablets based either on chlorine or iodine work equally well against this scourge follow the directions on the package carefully to assure safe water quality.
- Filter straws are a short-term solution to safe drinking water where there has been an outbreak of cholera. However, as these straws will only purify about 25 gallons before becoming useless, a longer-term purification method is probably desirable.
- Filter bottles will provide 100 gallons of water that are safe to drink, and are low enough in price to make them available to any traveler.
- There are many different kinds of portable water filters available that can provide hundreds or even thousands of gallons of pure, safe water. Some of these rely on actively pumping the water through a filter element while others rely on gravity.
- People who are planning to live for an extended period in an underdeveloped country would be well advised to take along a quality water filter. Filters that attach to the faucet itself are one option, although if electrical service is spotty, water may not be available at all times. Countertop gravity feed filters are probably the most practical answer to contaminated water as these will operate without the need for electricity and will safely filter water from any source.