Cholera (cont.)

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How is cholera diagnosed?

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Preliminary diagnosis is usually done by a caregiver who takes a history from the patient and observes the characteristic rice-water diarrhea, especially if a local outbreak of cholera has been identified. The diarrhea fluid is often teeming with motile, comma-shaped bacteria (presumptively V. cholerae) that can be seen with a microscope. The definitive diagnosis is made by isolation of the bacteria from diarrhea fluid on a selective medium thiosulfate-citrate-bile salts agar (TCBS). Reagents for serogrouping Vibrio cholerae isolates are available in all state health department laboratories in the U.S. Readers may see terms like serotypes Inaba, Ogawa, and Hikojima to describe V. cholerae; they simply indicate which O antigens (O antigens designated A, B, or C) are found on these strains of V. cholerae. PCR tests have also been developed to detect the genetic material of cholera, but currently they are not as widely used as the immunologic tests based on type-specific antiserum.

Definitive diagnosis helps to distinguish cholera from other diseases caused by other bacterial, protozoal, or viral pathogens that cause dysentery (gastrointestinal inflammation with diarrhea).

What is the treatment for cholera?

The CDC (and almost every medical agency) recommends rehydration with ORS (oral rehydration salts) fluids as the primary treatment for cholera. ORS fluids are available in prepackaged containers, commercially available worldwide, and contain glucose and electrolytes. The CDC follows the guidelines developed by the WHO (World Health Organization) as follows:

WHO Fluid Replacement or Treatment Recommendations (as per the CDC)
Patient condition Treatment Treatment volume guidelines; age and weight
No dehydration Oral rehydration salts (ORS) Children < 2 years: 50 mL-100 mL, up to 500 mL/day
Children 2-9 years: 100 mL-200 mL, up to 1,000 mL/day
Patients > 9 years: As much as wanted, to 2,000 mL/day
Some dehydration Oral rehydration salts (amount in first four hours) Infants < 4 mos (< 5 kg): 200-400 mL
Infants 4 mos-11 mos (5 kg-7.9 kg): 400-600 mL
Children 1 yr-2 yrs (8 kg-10.9 kg): 600-800 mL
Children 2 yrs-4 yrs (11 kg-15.9 kg): 800-1,200 mL
Children 5 yrs-14 yrs (16 kg-29.9 kg): 1,200-2,200 mL
Patients > 14 yrs (30 kg or more): 2,200-4,000 mL
Severe dehydration IV drips of Ringer Lactate or, if not available, normal saline and oral rehydration salts as outlined above Age < 12 months: 30 mL/kg within one hour*, then 70 mL/kg over five hours
Age > 1 year: 30 mL/kg within 30 min*, then 70 mL/kg over two and a half hours

*Repeat once if radial pulse is still very weak or not detectable

  • Reassess the patient every one to two hours and continue hydrating. If hydration is not improving, give the IV drip more rapidly. 200 mL/kg or more may be needed during the first 24 hours of treatment.
  • After six hours (infants) or three hours (older patients), perform a full reassessment. Switch to ORS solution if hydration is improved and the patient can drink.

In general, antibiotics are reserved for more severe cholera infections; they function to reduce fluid rehydration volumes and may speed recovery. Although good microbiological principles dictate it is best to treat a patient with antibiotics that are known to be effective against the infecting bacteria, this may take too long a time to accomplish during an initial outbreak (but it still should be attempted); meanwhile, severe infections have been effectively treated with tetracycline (Sumycin), doxycycline (Vibramycin, Oracea, Adoxa, Atridox, and others), furazolidone (Furoxone), erythromycin (E-Mycin, Eryc, Ery-Tab, PCE, Pediazole, Ilosone), or ciprofloxacin (Cipro, Cipro XR, Proquin XR) in conjunction with IV hydration.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/7/2014

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