Accra, the capital of Ghana, has reported an outbreak of cholera due to localized unsanitary conditions as well as seasonal rains that flood the area. Nearby South Sudan’s capital Juba is experiencing a cholera outbreak of its own. Meanwhile, halfway across the world in the Philippines, four villages in Alamada, North Cotabato, are currently experiencing an outbreak of the disease.
What Is Cholera?
Cholera is a potentially fatal disease caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae. An infected person can produce as much as 10 to 20 liters of watery diarrhea in a single day. Some people may vomit as well. This diarrhea rapidly leads to dehydration, and death may occur in just a few days after onset of symptoms.
Around the world, 3 to 5 million cases of cholera occur annually. Of those, approximately 100,000 die of the disease. Most people experience just mild symptoms and then recover, but up to 5 percent of infected persons develop severe illness. Death can occur within hours if no medical care is provided.
How Does Cholera Spread?
Ingestion of contaminated food and water are the primary ways in which cholera is spread. The feces of an infected person can get into food or water, causing infection in anyone who consumes it. Failure to wash hands before preparing or eating food can also result in infection. In areas without adequate sanitation of raw sewage, the disease may spread rapidly.
In the South Sudan cholera outbreak, one person out of at least 18 suspected cholera cases has died. The Philippines outbreak includes seven deaths and more than 100 cases to date. No confirmed case count for the current outbreak has been reported from Ghana.
Health officials in Ghana, South Sudan and the Philippines recommend that everyone wash their hands before eating. They also recommend drinking only bottled water with a sealed cap. In addition, people should only eat fresh produce that can be peeled or at least rinsed thoroughly with bottled water. If you’re planning a trip to any of the affected areas, avoid drinking beverages containing ice cubes as the ice could also be contaminated. Hand washing with soap and warm water is another effective prevention strategy. You can pack a water purification kit to cleanse any water you consume, boil water for one minute or filter the water with a portable filter. After boiling or filtering, add 2 drops of household bleach or one half of an iodine tablet per liter of water.
Residents of Canada are at an advantage over Americans when it comes to protection against cholera. In Canada, travel health clinics offer cholera vaccines to international travelers visiting at-risk areas. The vaccine is not available in the U.S. The cholera vaccine requires two doses with several weeks between the doses. You’re not fully immunized until you’ve received both doses of the vaccine. Immunity may wane, and you may need re-vaccination if planning a return trip.
Protecting Yourself Against Cholera
Before you travel, a pre-travel health exam with a travel health specialist helps ensure that you have all the necessary vaccinations, travel medications and travel supplies such as water purification kits that can help keep you healthy during your trip.
Ghana Health Service Issues Cholera Outbreak Alert
PhilSTAR.com: 7 Dead in Cholera Outbreak in Cotabato
South Sudan Hit By Cholera Outbreak
Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy Study: Cholera Vaccine Worked Well During Outbreak
Centers for Disease Control: General Cholera Information