Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cholera is gross

As I read about the Cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe I realised I had no idea what it was except that some how water is involved. Then I came across this old New Yorker article. omfg:

Cholera is a horrific illness. The onset of the disease is typically quick and spectacular; you can be healthy one moment and dead within hours. The disease, left untreated, has a fatality rate that can reach fifty per cent. The first sign that you have it is a sudden and explosive watery diarrhea, classically described as “rice-water stool,” resembling the water in which rice has been rinsed and sometimes having a fishy smell. White specks floating in the stool are bits of lining from the small intestine. As a result of water loss—vomiting often accompanies diarrhea, and as much as a litre of water may be lost per hour—your eyes become sunken; your body is racked with agonizing cramps; the skin becomes leathery; lips and face turn blue; blood pressure drops; heartbeat becomes irregular; the amount of oxygen reaching your cells diminishes. Once you enter hypovolemic shock, death can follow within minutes. A mid-nineteenth-century English newspaper report described cholera victims who were “one minute warm, palpitating, human organisms—the next a sort of galvanized corpse, with icy breath, stopped pulse, and blood congealed—blue, shrivelled up, convulsed.” Through it all, and until the very last stages, is the added horror of full consciousness. You are aware of what’s happening: “the mind within remains untouched and clear,—shining strangely through the glazed eyes . . . a spirit, looking out in terror from a corpse.”

You may know precisely what is going to happen to you because cholera is an epidemic disease, and unless you are fortunate enough to be the first victim you have probably seen many others die of it, possibly members of your own family, since the disease often affects households en bloc. Once cholera begins, it can spread with terrifying speed. Residents of cities in its path used to track cholera’s approach in the daily papers, panic growing as nearby cities were struck. Those who have the means to flee do, and the refugees cause panic in the places to which they’ve fled. Writing from Paris during the 1831-32 epidemic, the poet Heinrich Heine said that it “was as if the end of the world had come.” The people fell on the victims “like beasts, like maniacs.”

Not to sensationalize the Zimbabwe situation or anything. Apparently in modern times Cholera is amazingly easy to treat just by rehydrating victims. However, considering "you know who's" attempts to take Zimbabwe out of the modern world, things aren't looking so good especially with this rainy season now upon us.

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