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Entry #6: Thirsty? That water may not be clean as you think

Posted 12-15-2009 at 05:17 PM by BeanMarine
Holidays are the best time to travel! Who wants to stick around in countries slowly freezing up into Popsicle sticks when they can buy a cheap plane ticket and jetplane themselves over to a third world country caught in everlasting humidity? This entry is dedicated to all the folks who plan on going to other countries where sanitary water is not a faucet handle away.


Surprise! After three consecutive days of blogging followed by more than a week of silence, I even thought that I had dropped dead. Actually, what really happened was that Finals week ended (HECK YEAH), and I felt obligated to veg out for a couple of days. But I'm back, and so is microbiology... and so CHOLERA!

Vibrio Cholerae is a nasty little thing. The seemingly harmless, comma-shapped bacterium grows on a variety of things, but mostly resides on the surface of fresh water and marine habitats. In fact--and if you were here with me right now, you'd see my finger go up in a matter-of-factly sort of way--vibrio cholerae is the most common organism on the surface of unsanitary water.

The bacterium causes Cholera, our guest for today. When ingested, it travels past the stomach and into the small intestine, where it comfortably anchors itself to the wall and activates a pathway. This pathway increases the amount of water and chloride you poop/pee out, while simultaneously putting a stop to the absorption of salt. Basically, you excreting all your fluids out of you but getting nothing back in.

The sudden outflow of water and chloride results in the loss of nearly 30 liters of body fluids.


You kind of end up looking like this guy

Of course, transmitted by the consumption of contaminated foods and liquids, CHolera was once a prevalent disease in the 1800's, with each epidemic killing thousands of people. Nowadays, thanks to modern sewage treatment that is able to filter out the bacterium, Cholera is virtually eliminated. In the US, the chances of catching Cholera are approximately 1 out of 45 million.

With Cholera rates so low, you may be wondering how this disease has any impact on your health or lifestyle. It obviously has nothing to do with you, but if you're traveling outside of the country and into more undeveloped places (Africa or the Indian Subcontinent), Cholera may have everything to do with you.

Cholera is still very common in underdeveloped countries, where safe drinking water and adequate sanitation are hard to come by. Each year there are nearly 1 million Cholera cases and 1000 deaths due to Cholera (and these numbers may be even higher, since Cholera cases go undocumented).

Now that you may be wondering if your recent excursion to Bengal might have given you sever diarrhea, you may be interested in what symptoms you should be displaying. Expect to have explosive diarrhea, so explosive that they had to create this device because people couldn't get to the toilet fast enough:


Early documents describe young, beautiful women who came down with Cholera and then left looking like aged old women, completely and utterly dried out. Lastly, expect to smell very, very bad. Cholera patients have diarrhea that is expelled so violently that epithelial cells lining the intestine and basically shaved off. You're left with what people call: rice water. Just remember to not eat it.

On the bright side, however, Cholera is highly treatable and preventable! Oral Rehydration Therapy has proven to be an inexpensive and highly successful treatment. For the amount of water lost, the patient must drink an equal amount of ORT. Imagine drinking a mixture of chloride, sodium bicarbonate, and tablespoons of salt and sugar. Pretty gross.

In addition, simple filtration techniques (like sand filters of even boiling) help rid contaminated water of the Cholera bacterium. By avoiding raw shellfish and drinking only boiled water, you can ensure a cholera-free trip on next holiday expedition

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