during a cholera outbreak:
Wait… what is cholera? If you need to ask this question, you should send up a little prayer of thanks for God’s grace in modern civilization and sanitation! Cholera is a disease of poverty, filth, and ignorance.
Oh yeah, and bacteria. But it LOVES poverty, filth, and ignorance.
Photo by MicrobiologyOnline.org
It spreads rapidly through any water-based medium.
Photo by Open.edu
The infection is horrible.
Photo by EMS-Solution Inc
Which brings us back to…. a list of things you should NOT do in a cholera outbreak:
Cholera is a bacterial disease spread by contact with infected human waste and body fluids… which have a tendency to come in contact with hands. (EW.)
This is a cultural issue in Zambia as greeting one another and shaking hands goes beyond courtesy here- it is vital to maintaining relationships. People often hold hands (even if they are not much more than strangers) as they talk as a means of establishing connection in the conversation. After a church service, as you walk out the door, everyone forms a line and shakes hands with everyone else.
Eat raw vegetables
Most vegetables in market places here are washed in… the latrine area. Not even kidding. You know where that water has been?! If you buy fruits or vegetables for cooking they have to be sanitized first. And sanitize them well.
So if you take these veggies home:
Eat fast food/street food
There are no public toilet areas, no sinks, no sanitation. No hair nets, no hand sanitizer, no food-safe containers. If that guy is carrying cholera… so are his snacks.
Drink water that hasn’t been boiled or treated
Even bottled water isn’t safe if you aren’t certain that the bottling company isn’t just “purifying” it (as opposed to treating it). And in Africa all bets are off on that one!
Go to church/school/public meetings
For now, all public meetings have been suspended in outbreak areas. This is mostly due to ignorance about how cholera spreads. Most people in compounds don’t realize that not washing hands, sharing food, shaking hands, sharing toilets, etc can spread this disease. It isn’t a strictly necessary measure to stop the disease… but it helps people realize how serious and necessary the sanitation measures are.
Some of these areas are already affected by dirty drinking water, infected latrines, etc. You know what that means?
Stop Helping Others
(remember these are things you shouldn’t do!) The time to help is NOW. Time to educate on health and sanitation, to install proper water pumps on boreholes (deep wells with pumps instead of shallow hand-dugs that are easily infected), to help families with infected bread-winners, teach children about microbes, to encourage and support clean up in the slums. Can’t do that from where you are sitting because you live in a country NOT affected by cholera? Educate your kids about this disease and how it impacts third world countries. Support people engaged in dealing with the situation (we need short term solutions like clean up and long term solutions like education and water pumps).
PRAY FOR THE AFFECTED FAMILIES.
Ebola Zombie Apocalypse 2014. No don’t. Don’t even go there! This is a simple bacterial infection. It is so easy to treat that WHO and the CDC don’t even hand out antibiotics for it. That’s right: electrolytes (in treated water) and rest take care of this disease almost without exception. Extreme cases occur when the sick person continues to be exposed (got sick from infected water and continues drinking the same water).
Soooo… you don’t have to worry that cholera zombies are going to be arriving at your local airport.
However… this disease is impacting the lives of millions of people across the world. Without education and empowerment to change their lives, cholera will continue to kill hundreds of thousands of people (most of them children) every year.