New cholera scourge spreads through India Disease has killed over 2,000 people

August 13, 1993|By Newsday

A new mutant strain of cholera is sweeping rapidly across the Indian subcontinent and threatens to become the world's eighth cholera pandemic since 1837.

Since it first appeared in December in Madras, India, the newly dubbed "Bengal" cholera has claimed more than 2,000 lives and caused severe illnesses in an estimated 200,000 people, according to reports in today's issue of the British medical journal Lancet.

In the United States, one non-fatal case of the new cholera has been reported, in Los Angeles, in a woman who became infected India.

Cholera, caused by vibrio bacteria that thrive in waters contaminated with human or animal waste, is a diarrheal disease that is marked by acute dehydration. While there is no effective vaccine for cholera, it can be cured with tetracycline, an antibiotic.

This new cholera appears to be spreading far faster than the previous cholera pandemic, which began in India in 1961 and is still spreading today. While it took three years for the 1961 cholera strain to travel from India to Thailand, the Bengal cholera has already turned up in Thailand's capital, Bangkok, and threatens to spread nationwide, according to researchers from Mahidol University of Bangkok.

"This is an example of an emerging, potentially very serious pathogen," said Dr. David Swerdlow of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The CDC and the World Health Organization have been monitoring the Bengal cholera with some concern.

"Since we cannot predict where or how rapidly this new organism will spread," Dr. Swerdlow writes in Lancet, "countries must stay prepared indefinitely by maintaining surveillance, by assuring access to treatment and by providing clean water and adequate sewage disposal."

People usually get infected with cholera as a result of drinking water or eating food that contains the vibrio, or following contact -- such as shaking hands -- with somebody who has remnants of fecal matter or contaminated water on their person.

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