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Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholera (see image right). The main symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting, which rapidly lead to death. Transmission is primarily through consuming contaminated drinking water or food. The severity of the diarrhea and vomiting can lead to rapid dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Primary treatment is with oral rehydration solution and if these are not tolerated, intravenous fluids. Antibiotics are beneficial in those with severe disease. Worldwide it affects 3-5 million people and causes 100,000-130,000 deaths a year as of 2010.

The word cholera is from Greek: kholera from kholē "bile". Cholera likely has its origins in the Indian subcontinent; it has been prevalent in the Ganges delta since ancient times. The disease first spread by trade routes (land and sea) to Russia in 1817, then to Western Europe, and from Europe to North America.

About one hundred million bacteria must typically be ingested to cause cholera in a normal healthy adult. This dose, however, is less in those with lower gastric acidity. Children are also more susceptible with two to four year olds having the highest rates of infection. Individuals' susceptibility to cholera is also affected by their blood type, with those with type O blood being the most susceptible.

On reaching the intestinal wall, V. cholerae start producing the toxic proteins that give the infected person a watery diarrhea. This carries the multiplying new generations of V. cholerae bacteria out into the drinking water of the next host if proper sanitation measures are not in place.

Although cholera may be life-threatening, prevention of the disease is normally straightforward if proper sanitation practices are followed. In developed countries, due to nearly universal advanced water treatment and sanitation practices, cholera is no longer a major health threat. The last major outbreak of cholera in the United States occurred in 1910-1911. Effective sanitation practices, if instituted and adhered to in time, are usually sufficient to stop an epidemic.

One of the major contributions to fighting cholera was made by the physician and pioneer medical scientist John Snow (1813-1858), who in 1854 found a link between cholera and contaminated drinking water. Dr. Snow proposed a microbial origin for epidemic cholera in 1849. In his major "state of the art" review of 1855, he proposed a substantially complete and correct model for the etiology of the disease. In two pioneering epidemiological field studies, he was able to demonstrate human sewage contamination was the most probable disease vector in two major epidemics in London in 1854. His model was not immediately accepted, but it was seen to be the more plausible, as medical microbiology developed over the next thirty years or so.

Cities in developed nations made massive investment in clean water supply and well-separated sewage treatment infrastructures between the mid-1850s and the 1900s. This eliminated the threat of cholera epidemics from the major developed cities in the world. In 1885, Robert Koch identified V. cholerae with a microscope as the bacillus causing the disease.


Cholera - wikipedia

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