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COVID, Monkeypox And Now Cholera: Know What Is Driving The Outbreak Of This Water-borne Disease

In places struggling with the availability of safe drinking water, clean sanitation, and basic healthcare facilities, this disease can cause havoc and is already doing so

Poverty-affected Lebanon reports its first case, violence-affected Haiti becomes the 'cholera time bomb' with most hospitals either closed or not operating, Syria too not free from scare

Written by Kashish Sharma |Published : October 7, 2022 4:46 PM IST

Cholera is suddenly emerging as a nightmare for some countries around the globe. Lebanon recorded its first case of cholera since 1993. This happens when it's neighbour war-torn country Syria is struggling to contain the outbreak which has claimed over 30 lives so far. Another violence-prone country Haiti has turned into a "time bomb for cholera" with the disease re-emerging in the country just after it was thought to have been eliminated for good.

Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal disease that can kill within hours if left untreated. In places struggling with the availability of safe drinking water, clean sanitation, and basic healthcare facilities, this disease can cause havoc and is already doing so.

WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a tweet: "Cholera thrives on poverty and conflict but is now being turbo-charged by climate change. Extreme climate events like floods, cyclones, and droughts further reduce access to clean water and create the ideal environment for cholera to spread. After years of declining cases, we have been seeing a worrying surge in cholera outbreaks around the globe over the past year."

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As per WHO, places marked by water shortage, fuel shortage and persistent violence fuel the humanitarian crisis and hamper response efforts. Severe cases of the disease need rapid treatment with intravenous fluids and antibiotics. In countries that lack a sustainable health infrastructure, the disease can turn life-threatening.

Lebanon records its first case since 1993

The Health Ministry of the crisis-hit country reported the first case of cholera in decades. The announcement came when neighbouring Syria is already battling the outbreak. As per reports, the infected person is from the country's impoverished rural northern province of Akkar, which shares a boundary with Syria. Following the confirmation of the case, efforts are being put in to prevent a possible outbreak. The most likely cause of the infection was the inter-border transmission. Poverty plunged country is reportedly suffering from rampant power cuts, water shortages, and skyrocketing inflation.

Haiti becomes a 'cholera time bomb'

Caught up in gang violence and an acute humanitarian crisis, Haiti as per a UNICEF representative has become a cholera time bomb. The new outbreak has killed over eight people. As per reports, the country's capital Port-au-Prince is suspecting 54 new cases. Thousands died in the last outbreak in 2010. The disease had reportedly infected 8,20,000 and killed 10,000. The country reported its potential last case in 2019. However, the re-emerging cases have shown the contrary. The outbreak is seeing new dawn when everybody thought it was an end. As per reports, over one million people in the country's capital are hungry. There is acute water scarcity, fuel shortage and a lack of healthcare facilities. UNICEF informed that three-quarters of the country's main hospitals are either reducing their operations or shutting their doors. Insecurity, violence and lack of fuel are the reasons behind the closing. As per some reported sources, some families in the country have no option but to consume unsafe water. People are dying at home as the hospitals are either closed or are unable to operate.

Syria not free from the scare

Syria is reported to have recorded 39 deaths from cholera and a rough estimate of the infection reaches 600 in the war-raged country. Seeing the situation in Syria, the WHO warned on Tuesday that the situation is evolving alarmingly and is spreading to other regions. As per reports, a total of 594 cases have been recorded across 11 of its 14 provinces, with Aleppo being affected the most. The source of the outbreak was believed to be the contaminated Euphrates river. As per the UN, around 18 million people in Syria rely on the river for safe drinking water.

When Cholera becomes life-threatening

Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by the ingestion of food or water contaminated by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae that is not just a public health threat but also an indicator of inequity and lack of social development. While the mild or moderate form of the disease is not life-threatening, the severe cases when left untreated can lead to death. The cause of death might be acute dehydration.

Can be an endemic or a pandemic

The disease can be endemic or pandemic. A cholera-endemic area is one where there is a local transmission of the disease and where confirmed cases of the disease were detected during the last three years. The spread can be seasonal or sporadic. In countries where cholera does not spread regularly, the presence of one confirmed case and some evidence of its local transmission is taken as an outbreak.

A Humanitarian crisis

The transmission of the disease is closely linked to inadequate access to clean water and sanitation facilities. The most vulnerable areas are slum areas and camps for internally displaced people or refugees. A humanitarian crisis like a lack of access to clean drinking water, unavailability of basic healthcare facilities and displacement of the population for resources are some reasons that might facilitate the spread of disease. Places marked by continuous violence, poverty and shortage of fuel are also likely to be vulnerable.

Treatment is available

Cholera is an easily treatable disease. The majority of infected people can be treated successfully through the administration of Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS). For severe cases, there might be a need to administer intravenous fluids. Some patients are also given antibiotics to diminish the severity of the disease. However, mass administration of antibiotics is not recommended as it contributes to antimicrobial resistance, making people unresponsive to treatments. Currently, there are three WHO-qualified oral vaccines and each of these requires two doses for full protection.

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