Apr 2023 1st edition

What you need to know about cholera

South Africa recently encountered cases of cholera in Gauteng, and the Department of Health pleads with members of the public to take precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the disease.

Cholera is an acute enteric infection caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholera, and outbreaks usually occur in settings with inadequate sanitation and insufficient access to safe drinking water.

Cholera typically causes acute watery diarrhoea and can affect people of all ages. It mainly spreads through contaminated water, and people can become infected directly through drinking contaminated water, or indirectly through eating contaminated food.

The infection is often mild or without symptoms, but can sometimes be severe and life-threatening.  

Recently, the department urged all people experiencing symptoms including diarrhoea and dehydration, with or without travel history to cholera outbreak countries, to report to their nearest health facilities for health screening and early detection.

“The World Health Organisation does not recommend any travel or trade restrictions on countries based on current available information, in line with the international health regulations. Port health officials at the ports of entry (especially land and air) will remain on alert for travellers arriving from countries experiencing a cholera outbreak,” the department said. 

Signs and symptoms

“Symptoms range from mild to severe and watery diarrhoea and dehydration. The incubation period (the period from when a person ingests cholera-contaminated water/food to when they first become ill) ranges from a few hours to five days, usually two to three days.

"Most persons infected with cholera will experience mild illness or not feel ill,” the Health Department announced.

Although cholera is often predictable and preventable, the department has urged people to ensure proper hand hygiene, including thorough washing of hands with water and soap before and after using the bathroom or toilet , and preparing or eating food.

The use of safe or disinfected water for preparing food, beverages and ice is recommended to prevent possible cholera transmission. Safe disposal of human excrement such as soiled nappies, is highly recommended.

The department said cholera is not endemic in South Africa, and the last outbreak was in 2008/9, with about 12 000 cases.

“That resulted from an outbreak in Zimbabwe, which led to a surge of imported cases and subsequent local transmission in Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces through contaminated water,” the department said. – SAnews.gov.za

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