Cholera Cholera is an infectious intestinal disease common in Southern Asia. Cholera is caused by a comma-shaped bacterium called Vibrio Choleras. The microorganism is transmitted by water or food that has been contaminated with the feces of people who have the disease. Cholera occurs when Vibrio Cholera enters the intestines and releases Cholera toxin. The toxin causes the intestine to secrete large amounts of water and salt.
Because the intestine cannot absorb the water and salt at the rate they are secreted, the patient suffers severe diarrhea. This loss of fluid causes severe dehydration and changes in the body chemistry. If untreated, the illness can lead to shock and eventually death. With proper treatment, Cholera lasts only a few days. Prevention of Cholera requires adequate sanitation facilities. A vaccine against the illness has been developed, but it is not very effective.
People who travel in areas where Cholera is widespread should not drink the local water. They should cook all foods that may have been exposed to water. Peru, already afflicted by economic ills and feastering guerilla insurgency, is now plagued by an epidemic of Cholera. As of February 25, 1991, the disease had claimed 90 lives and infected at least 14,000 people. It is the first major outbreak of Cholera in the western hemisphere since early in this century. In Peru, local authorities have moved quickly to stem the epidemic, which is spread by poor hygiene and contaminated water, raw food, and fish.
To avoid spreading, health officials in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Chile, have prohibited the importation of uncooked Peruvian food products. Coastal waters have shown a high degree of contamination by testings. In early May 1991, as Cholera began to spread eastward into Perus jungle, volunteer doctors from Lima began to navigate the rivers with boats of Peruvian Amazons, stopping at each silt-house hamlet searching for the sick. The doctors brought their I.U.S. rehydration packets to the people who drink the contaminated river water.
After five months, Cholera is spreading to other countries in Latin America — and a few cases have been seen in the United States. Although Cholera is disappearing from Peru for now, it will eventually become native, reappearing in weakened people for each year. This is Choleras normal course. Truly astonishing, however, is the Peruvian governments success in treating it. Two thousand people have died; less than 1 percent of the roughly 250,000 who got the disease. In the worlds last huge epidemic in West Africa in the early 1970s, the death rate was between 20 and 30 percent.
Cholera has killed 2,000 people while 40,000 children under 5 die ea year from diarrhea in Peru. On January 23, 1991, the inevitable happened. The first cases of Cholera appeared. The bacteria was probably brought by a fishing boat from Asia. It would be hard to think of a country worse prepared, because diarrhea and vomiting can kill cholera victims within a few hours unless they receive rehydration.
This is a country living in poverty. Help is not around the corner and the closest health clinic is a days journey on foot, horse, or bicycle. The clinic is only likely to stock only the most basic and simple medicines. The Cholera bacterium lives in contaminated waters and foods; it infects humans unless it is killed by thorough cooking. Cholera is a disease of poverty, practically absent from wealthy neighborhoods, but prevalent among those who dont wash, drink clean water, properly dispose of waste, or eat properly cooked food. Every control measure requires water but a smaller percentage of people have water and sewers in Peru than practically anywhere else in the hemisphere.