Cases of Victorian disease that spreads through food and water on the rise

In 1831, a terrifying epidemic arrived in London and, over the years, cholera killed over 53,293 people, The National Archives said.

Now, the WHO says there are 24 countries reporting active outbreaks since the beginning of 2023.

What is cholera?

The bacterium Vibrio cholerae, which can contaminate food and water, can lead to illness once ingested.

The NHS says you can catch cholera from:

  • Drinking unclean water
  • Eating food (particularly shellfish) that’s been in unclean water
  • Eating food that’s been handled by an infected person.

People who have an infection with cholera can have severe diarrhoea.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says one in 10 people with cholera experience severe symptoms such as:

  • Profuse watery diarrhea, sometimes described as “rice-water stools”
  • Vomiting
  • Thirst
  • Leg cramps
  • Restlessness or irritability.

Consequently, dehydration can occur, which shows up as:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • Dry mucous membranes
  • Low blood pressure.

The CDC warns: “People with severe cholera can develop severe dehydration, which can lead to kidney failure

“If left untreated, severe dehydration can lead to shock, coma, and death within hours.”

Most people, however, only experience mild diarrhoea or have no symptoms at all.

Treatment for those suffering from cholera includes oral rehydration and antibiotics.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) revealed the five countries that are reporting most cases of cholera:

  • Bangladesh
  • Afghanistan
  • Ethiopia
  • Haiti
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The NHS says: “It’s not found in the UK, but there’s a very small risk of getting it while travelling in some parts of the world.”

While travelling abroad, it helps to practise good hygiene to stop you from getting ill.

Tips for better hygiene to avoid disease include:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water regularly, especially after using the toilet and before preparing food or eating
  • Only drink tap water that’s been boiled or bottled water
  • Brush your teeth using bottled or boiled water.

There is a vaccine for cholera, but this is usually only recommended if you’re travelling to an area where cholera is common.