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Observe personal hygiene, shun contaminated water, foods to prevent cholera

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The recent cholera outbreak in parts of the country has been claiming many lives, while several others have been hospitalised.

Health experts have described cholera as an infectious disease that causes severe watery diarrhoea, which can lead to dehydration and even death, if untreated.

They explained that cholera is caused by eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated with a bacterium called vibrio cholera. They, therefore, advised that people should try to drink potable water, especially now that safe water is costly and scarce in the country.

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Child Health and Immunisation Specialist, with Save the Children, International (SCI) Dr. Opeyemi Odedere, said the disease is transmitted majorly through consumption of contaminated water or food, though it can also be contracted faeco-orally. However, it can be rapidly fatal, especially in children, if not promptly attended to.

He said: “Outbreaks and spread of cholera, which is now largely confined to developing countries, such as Nigeria, is fuelled by a lot of factors. It is a disease associated with poverty and poor sanitation, improper sewage disposal, leakage of sewage, lack of potable drinking water, overcrowding, war, internal displacement, refugees, and such natural disasters as flooding and tsunami, among others.

“Overcrowding increases the risk of contact with vomitus, excreta or contaminated water or food. Though cholera can occur at any season, outbreaks in our environment are most prevalent during raining season, as this favours the spread of the bacteria.

“Affected individual needs to seek medical attention immediately. Adequate rehydration with oral rehydration solution or intra-venous infusion and appropriate antibiotics is the mainstay of treatment.”

He explained that vaccination is desirable, although it does not confer lifelong protection against the infection. Oral vaccine has been shown to provide short-term protection in all age groups and may prevent severe disease. Increase availability of the vaccine and coverage, especially for high-risk groups is advocated.

He, however, said the outbreak and spread of cholera could be stopped or reduced to the barest minimum. And since cholera is a grave disease of public health concern, the emphasis should be on prevention.

He listed some measures that are capable of preventing spread of the illness to include personal and family hygiene; proper and regular hand washing, appropriate disposal of sewage and other waste, and boiling and or treating water before drinking, among others.

In his view, government at all levels can help in the fight against the disease by strengthening the primary health care system in the country, as this is the backbone of any meaningful disease prevention strategy.

“Collaboration is needed to ensure provision of potable drinking water, provision of efficient sewage disposal system, alleviation of poverty, general improvement of infrastructure, proper disaster management preparedness and responsiveness, and above all, regular public enlightenment programmes,” he said.

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Dr. Joel Logbo of Lagos State College of Health Technology Yaba, Lagos, said most people infected with V. cholerae do not develop any symptoms, although the bacteria are present in their faeces for one to 10 days after infection and are shed back into the environment, potentially infecting other people. Among people who develop symptoms, the majority has mild or moderate symptoms, while a minority develops acute watery diarrhoea, with severe dehydration, which can lead to death, if left untreated.

He stated that signs and symptoms of cholera can begin as soon as a few hours or as long as five days after infection and include severe acute diarrhoea with production of “rice water stools” and vomiting, resulting in rapid dehydration.

He said: “Signs and symptoms of dehydration include rapid heart rate, dry mucous membranes, muscular cramps, thirst, loss of skin elasticity and low blood pressure. However, cholera is an easily treatable disease.

“Anybody with diarrhoea/vomiting should quickly be taken to the nearest health centre/hospital for adequate attention. Ensure proper environmental sanitation, especially proper excreta and refuse disposal in the community.

“There is need to provide safe, potable water for all citizens, as well as increase funding for health to ensure that all citizens always have access to prompt health care. There should also be improved disease surveillance health education of communities on disease prevention.”

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