By: Taylor Eisenstein
Cholera is a severe diarrheal illness caused by specific toxigenic types, or serogroups, of the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Serogroups O1 and serogroup O139 are the specific strains capable of producing the cholera toxin and causing widespread epidemics. The bacterium ordinarily spreads when a person ingests food or water contaminated with the bacterium, typically through feces. As a result, cholera typically spreads in areas with inadequate sanitation and hygienic practices, such as in crowded refugee camps and war-torn regions of the world.
Symptoms of cholera can be extremely severe and may include diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps. Many individuals become rapidly dehydrated, to the extent that they might die within hours of infection without adequate treatment. Some infected individuals might not display any symptoms, which can amplify disease spread, since the bacteria can still survive in their feces and possibly infect others.
Current treatments for cholera involve rehydrating infected patients to replace the fluids lost through their severe diarrhea. Oral rehydration solutions (ORS), packages that contain sugar and salts dissolved in water, are used to treat cholera and similar diarrheal diseases. Administration of intravenous fluids might also be required for some cases. According to the CDC, with rehydration treatments less than one percent of infected individuals succumb to the disease, indicating that it is highly curable with appropriate treatment. Oral vaccines, such as Dukoral® and Shanchol®, are also prequalified by the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2016, Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) even approved a live oral vaccine called Vaxchora to for prevention of cholera attributed to serogroup O1.
The WHO has been actively working to treat and maintain surveillance on the epidemic in Yemen. Since the start of the epidemic, more than 36 diarrhea treatment centers have opened, 158 cholera kits have been distributed, 900 health workers have been trained, 1450 beds have been sent, and 1 million bags of intravenous fluids have been delivered. In some regions, the number of cases is decreasing. While the conditions in Yemen are grave, humanitarian response plans in place assist in funding and maintaining public health infrastructure, which will hopefully reduce disease incidence in the coming months.