The Rising Risks of Cholera in Pakistan’s “Flood of the Century”

2010-08-15 | |
Last updated: 2010-08-15

For more than two weeks now, in 2010, the people of Pakistan have been experiencing floods so severe that some people are calling the event the “flood of the century”. The land area under water is now one third of the entire country and this is greater than the size of England, the US state of Minnesota, or the Australian state of Victoria for those looking for a comparison. With this amount of water present for such a long period of time comes the risk of many diseases that can pose serious and immediate health problems to those in the flooded areas.

Among the medical problems that those in a flood area can face are minor skin and lung infections as well as more serious infectious diseases with some mostly familiar names including typhoid fever, malaria, leptospirosis, dengue fever and cholera. Of these conditions, some are carried and spread by water while insects and animals spread others. Although any of these conditions can be serious, especially when untreated, the one that poses the most immediate and dangerous threat in a flood situation is Cholera.

What Is Cholera And Who Is Affected By The Condition?

As a bacterial gastrointestinal infection, Cholera causes severe diarrhea and vomiting. The reason that that a Cholera infection is so dangerous is that it can affect a person within two hours of exposure and can lead to death from dehydration in as little as one day. In comparison, the other infections that one might face in a flood take multiple days to weeks in order to cause serious illness, allowing more chance for them to be treated.

In an average year, the Cholera bacteria is responsible for about 5 million cases of infection worldwide and as many as 120,000 deaths. The infection is spread by contaminated water and food as well as very small non-biting flies that breed well in standing water. Cholera pandemics have been very common throughout history with numerous outbreaks in the 1800s, some in the first quarter of the 1900s as well as in the 1960s.

How Contagious Is Cholera And Why Is Cholera Dangerous?

Despite the frequency and regularity of Cholera outbreaks, it is not a highly contagious infection and occurrence of such an outbreak depends on a serious lack of hygienic conditions. Based on research from the University of Michigan, it takes about 100 billion of the cholera bacteria present in the water a person drinks in order to cause the person to suffer a severe infection. This means that people become sick because the water is extremely contaminated. Even in a flood situation, it may take a while for the water to become sufficiently dangerous.

Once a person is infected, however, the Cholera bacteria breed until they form a film in a person’s intestines. At about that time, having achieved sufficient population growth, the bacteria signal one another that it is time to exit the body to move onto another host. As a result, they begin to create toxins that damage the tissues of the intestines causing the irritation that leads to the vomiting and diarrhea that allows the bacteria to flush themselves out of the infected person. The result is that the bacteria is extremely effective at promoting its own spread despite not being highly contagious.

Another problem with Cholera that makes it dangerous is the inability for most of those who have suffered from it to develop immunity against subsequent infection. Researchers from the University of Michigan found that people with mild infections lost their naturally-developed immunity to the disease within only weeks or months of exposure. They found that it unfortunately takes a severe infection for individuals to develop an immunity that lasts for 3 or more years. With 75% of those affected experiencing only a minor infection, most people will not retain immunity. This means that most people in Pakistan will have no natural protection against such an infection.

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Category: General Health, Health Risks, Medical Treatment

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