In November 2021, a cholera case was detected in Petaling Jaya, Selangor when an individual succumbed to this disease. Since then, advertisements on media such as TV were done by the government agency to help spread awareness of the disease. During flood season or flash flood, awareness of cholera is more frequently seen on TV and online. According to data from the Malaysian Ministry of Health, in 2004 to 2014, 3841 cases of cholera have been reported with 32 deaths and 75 % cases were from Sabah.
Cholera is one of the oldest epidemic diseases, dated back in the 1800’s which has claimed thousands of lives until the early 1920’s. This disease is considered as endemic in the tropic regions such as India, Latin America and Africa. The bacteria responsible for this infection is called Vibrio cholerae. Presence of cholera is likely to be associated with slums and poor water sanitation and food contamination. In Malaysia, cholera outbreak easily occurs during floods because of contaminated water by animal faeces and many other contaminants which is optimal for cholera bacteria growth.
Another name of cholera is “blue death” because the severe dehydration causes a person’s skin to become bluish-grey. If you are a flood victim or knows someone who is stuck in the flood, you might want to check if you could be at risk of cholera.
Symptoms and sign of cholera infection:
- Diarrhoea especially painless watery or stool (often called as rice water stools as the consistency resembles water from washing the rice grain). It can be accompanied with mucus or bile (yellow greenish pigment from the liver).
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Profuse vomiting
- Dry mouth
- Cool skin
- Lower skin elasticity (decreased skin turgor). You can try pulling the skin for a few seconds and it should return to its original state almost immediately. If it takes time to return, this can be a sign of extreme loss of body fluid.
- Rapid and deep breathing (hyperventilation)
- Muscle weakness and cramping
It is important to recognize signs and symptoms of cholera early on to help prevent further life-threatening complications such as low potassium level which can damage heart and the nerve, kidney failure and low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia). Such complications may lead to death. Early treatment by rehydration can stabilise a patient’s body fluid level and electrolytes. Drink plenty of clean water when diarrhoea symptoms emerge and consider taking anti diarrhoea medicine with Oral Rehydration Salt. Seek medical attention if diarrhoea persists more than 48 hours, unable to drink or bloody watery stool. Administration of antibiotics helps shorten the diarrhoea symptoms.
The best way to prevent yourself or people around you from cholera infection is:
- Remember to wash hands with soap or antiseptic based hand wash before eating, handling food and after using the toilet. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when water is scarce.
- Water should be boiled, especially water sourcing from unknown cleanliness status
- Drink bottled water and make sure it is sealed well when you first receive it
- Wipe the outside of the bottle or can beverages before drinking
- Brush your teeth using bottled water
- Avoid raw vegetables and salad
- Peel all fruit before consumption, better by yourself
- Make sure to clean fruit and vegetable by using water from a clean source
- Avoid eating uncooked or undercooked seafood, fish and meat. Ensure the food is thoroughly cooked and eaten while it is still hot.
- If food is served in a buffet style, try to eat as early as you can.
- Avoid getting food from roadside vendors especially knowing the surroundings is dirty or the food-handler does not practise good hygiene, examples: washing hands before food preparation, wearing gloves during food packaging, covering food from exposed to air. Take Multivitamins for better health.