18 February 2013
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases in Johannesburg has completed laboratory testing on specimens from a Free State Province man admitted to hospital last week with diarrhoea.
The preliminary tests showed that the diarrhoea was likely caused by a species of bacteria belonging to the same family of bacteria that causes cholera. On further testing at the Centre for Enteric Diseases reference laboratory based at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, the bacteria was further identified as a non-toxin producing member of this family. Such bacteria cause mild diarrhoea and are not associated with outbreaks. The man has recovered from his illness and has since been discharged from hospital.
Classic cholera outbreaks are caused by Vibrio cholera O1 and O139 bacteria. These specific bacteria produce a toxin (called cholera toxin) that causes a sudden onset of severe diarrhoea which often leads to dehydration. There are no cholera outbreaks currently reported in South Africa. The last major outbreak of cholera in South Africa was in 2009.
Water or food that is contaminated by bacteria, viruses or parasites are important causes of infectious diarrhoea. To prevent these, people are advised to practice good hand hygiene by washing hands with soap and water after going to the toilet, before cooking, and before eating. If there is concern that a water supply may be contaminated, boiling or addition of bleach (1 teaspoon bleach per 20 liters of water) or water purification tablets (as per instructions) will render the water safe to drink.
Released by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (a division of the National Health Laboratory Service) and the National Department of Health
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Nombuso Shabalala, 011 555 0545 or 082 886 4238
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