Infectious diseases have been around for centuries and they have destroyed, killed whole populations and wreaked havoc across the entire world. They’ve caused epidemics and/or pandemics. Epidemics are when an infectious disease affects a large population within a geographic region. Pandemics are epidemics on much larger scale, globally. Influenza, AIDS/HIV, yellow fever, and cholera are just a few examples of the worst epidemics known to the world. Cholera has been around since ancient times and it still continues to be a major threat. (Lamb)
Cholera is an intestinal infection caused by drinking water or eating food that is contaminated with the bacterium vibrio cholera. Symptoms of an infected person may have a rapid onset of watery diarrhea with severe dehydration, only a few will develop serve vomiting, diarrhea which can lead to shock and if left untreated it can result in immediate death (Lamb). However, there are high percentage rates of people who have been infected that do not have any symptoms and they continue to infect the area. According the World Health Organization (WHO), cholera is an extremely virulent disease and it affects everyone.
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People with other diseases and infections such as HIV/AIDS are at a higher risk for dying from cholera. (World) Cholera has been around since ancient times and it was limited to area of India until the 19th century (Lamb). The first of the seven pandemics of cholera began in India during the 1800’s. By 1820, when trade and colonization became more prominent, cholera was transported and exposed to other countries, like Asia and the Middle East. It is unknown how many people actually died during this outbreak but it was expected to be in the hundreds of thousands. Among the dead were 10,000 British troops. (CBC)
By the 1830’s cholera reached North America. During this time there were several major outbreaks happening globally. England, Poland, Finland, Latin America, Russia and India were also affected by cholera outbreaks. (CBC) The third and deadliest pandemics of cholera happened in the 1850’s and it affected nearly every continent in the world. At this point no one knew anything about cholera and finally a British physician John Snow discovered that the water was contaminated. Snow would make recommendations to remove the water pump handle in London and once it was removed there was an instant decline in the number of cases of cholera. CBC) Even though Snow discovered that it spread through contaminated water there were still major outbreaks occurring during the 1860’s to the 1920’s. Then a Ukrainian bacteriologist developed a vaccine in 1882 at the Pasteur Institute. Waldemar Haffkine tested his vaccine in India in 1893 and then he went on to discover other vaccines for the plague. Haffkine is known for creating the first effective prophylactic vaccination for a bacterial disease in man (Hawgood). By 1923, cholera outbreaks could only be found in India. This was the end of the 6th pandemic. (CBC)
The seventh pandemic began in 1961 and it started in South Asia and quickly moved across the world. Today, 2013, there are still outbreaks in every country despite all preventable measures available. (World) In 1992, a new strain of the cholera bacteria was discovered in Bangladesh. This new strain has already been identified in eleven countries. There could be an eighth pandemic in the near future. (CBC) With the current rise of cholera outbreaks WHO created a Global Task Force on Cholera Control in 1992. The purpose of this task force was to create awareness while reducing mortality and morbidity rates associated with the disease.
They also want to address the social and economic consequences of cholera. The task force is responsible for developing technical guidelines and training materials related to cholera control. “To date, the Task Force has provided technical advice and support for cholera control and prevention at country level; training of health professionals at national, regional and international levels in prevention, preparedness and response of diarrhoeal disease outbreaks; and the dissemination of information on cholera and other epidemic prone enteric diseases to health professionals and the general public. ” (World)
CBC News. (October 2010). Cholera’s seven pandemics Disease has killed millions since 19th century. In CBC News Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2008/05/09/f-cholera-outbreaks.html.
Hawgood, BJ. (February 2007). Waldemar Mordecai Haffkine, CIE (1860-1930): prophylactic vaccination against cholera and bubonic plague in British India.. In US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17356724.
Lamb, R. (n.d.). 10 Worst Epidemics. In Discovery Channel. Retrieved from http://dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/curiosity/topics/10-worst-epidemics.htm.
World health organization. (July 2012). Fact Sheet Cholera. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs107/en/index.html