The recent and widespread outbreak of cholera in Haiti has lead many people to wonder about the spread of this treatable, yet potentially deadly infectious disease. The major symptom of cholera is severe diarrhea, which can rapidly lead to dehydration.
Cholera is caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae, which contaminates water via fecal matter. While cholera is not a common disease in the U.S., it is something travelers should be mindful of when in less urban areas of south Asia, Africa and Latin America. When traveling in these regions, you should avoid any water that is untreated, including municipal water that may not be properly processed.
Common sources of cholera to avoid:
- Municipal or untreated water
- Ice made from municipal or untreated water
- Foods and drinks sold by street vendors
- Vegetables grown with water containing human wastes
- Raw or undercooked seafood from areas with polluted water (particularly in tropical areas)
- Raw and unpeeled fruits and vegetables
- Unpasteurized milk and milk products
Remember, contaminated water affects more than just your diet. Try to use disinfected water for things like washing your face and hands, brushing your teeth, and washing dishes and utensils that are used to eat and prepare food. To disinfect water, boil it for at least a minute or filter it and use a disinfecting agent like iodine.
These precautions will not only help you to avoid cholera, but any other water-borne bacterias as well.