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Odisha sees outbreak of cholera

Cholera cases have been detected among a number of villages in rural Odisha.  

More than fifty people were affected with diarrhoea in the Polasara area of Odisha’s Ganjam district. Such a high prevalence of diarrhoea cases in a small amount of time alerted local authorities to the potential for cholera within the area.

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Open defecation remains a common practice, often despite the presence of public toilets.

Two of the eight stool samples gathered from villages in the region tested positive for cholera. The positive samples were found to have originated from Polasara town and Jilundi, a village close to Polasara.

It was theorised by analysts at the microbiology department of MKCG Medical College that the cholera cases occurred due to the consumption of contaminated water. The news highlights the need for proper sanitation and clean water amongst rural communities and tribes in the state.

Cholera, despite being a bacterial infection, is not spread via human to human contact. Instead, the disease is typically contracted via the consumption of food or water contaminated with the Vibirio Cholera bacterium.

The disease is common to areas that are overcrowded, or have poor levels of sanitation. Water sources or food can be contaminated by the faeces of a person who is infected with the bacteria. In areas of India where open defecation is still commonly practised this can lead to water used in irrigation becoming infected, allowing for the bacteria to be present on crops. These crops can infect more individuals if eaten without thorough washing or cooking.

The World Health Organization reports that up to 80 percent of  individuals infected with cholera remain asymptomatic for prolonged periods. This can lead to unrealised spreading of the disease. For those who do display symptoms, the hallmark characteristic of cholera is diarrhoea. This can often be coupled with vomiting, both of which can lead to extreme dehydration.

Many other symptoms, such as dry mucous membranes, muscle cramps, and reduced blood pressure are due to the resultant dehydration. In some, levels of dehydration can cause more severe complications such as loss of consciousness or coma. It is due to this that a cholera infection has the potential to be fatal.

The state government of Odisha is currently struggling in attempts to provide clean water to many tribals in mountainous or forested regions. These people typically obtain drinking water from nearby streams and rivers. Due to open defecation these water sources are vulnerable to cholera contamination. A single individual infected with the bacteria may therefore infect the population of a village who use the same water source.

The government in Odisha admitted that of around 2,000 piped water supply projects, most were defunct, 1,345 of these defunct projects were deemed to be non-repairable. Despite reaching many with fresh water projects, many villages still remain without access to wells, or other means of receiving hygienic water. In order to reduce diarrhoea related deaths — still one of the highest causes of death in India — access to sanitary water is vital.

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