Cholera: Kenya?s Sanitation Menace
Cholera: Kenya?s Sanitation Menace

Cholera: Kenya’s Sanitation Menace

Every year, Kenya deals with cholera outbreaks in several counties. In 2017 alone, Kenya has had several outbreaks in areas such as Tana River, Garissa, Nairobi, Murang’a, Vihiga, Nakuru, Narok, Kiambu, Mombasa and Kericho counties. During the June-July period, Kenya witnessed an outbreak in Nairobi County, which affected wedding guests and attendants of the China Trade Fair.The key to dealing with cholera in Kenya lies in the ability to prevent the occurrence of infection through establishing prior preventive measures.


Cholera is a disease caused by the bacteria Vibriocholerae, which is transmitted through food and water. The bacteria is passed through the fecal-oral route. Cholera outbreaks in Kenya occur majorly due to poor sanitation (food and water), high population density and constant movement from one county to another which propels the spread of the disease. The risk of transmitting the disease from one person to another is low. Seafood such as oysters living in infected seawater may spread the disease.

Signs and symptoms

Cholera may manifest itself at varying times in different patients. Usually, most victims show symptoms from between two hours to five days. The symptoms of infection include:

  • A lot of watery diarrhea (looks like rice water)
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps

If left untreated the patient may manifest signs of dehydration including:

  • Sunken eyes
  • Wrinkled skin especially on the hands and feet
  • The skin may also turn bluish-grey in extreme cases of dehydration
  • Dry mouth
  • Lethargy

In case of suspected infection, it is important to have a medical checkup.

Diagnosis, treatment, and prevention

Diagnosis of cholera is conducted through a rapid dipstick test and stool testing. Stool testing is the standard diagnostic approach used in Kenya. Once the bacteria is detected within the body, treatment commences immediately. In cases of awidespread outbreak, persons with symptoms similar to those of cholera are treated with or without laboratory results.

Mild cases of cholera are treatable with simple oral rehydration therapy and zinc supplementation. In severe cases, intravenous fluids and antibiotics are used. While cholera is not a fatal disease, prompt response to the earliest symptoms increases the chances of recovery. Since the disease causes a lot of fluid loss, patients may develop complications such as kidney problems and organ failure due to dehydration.

Sanitation is key to the prevention of cholera. Proper disposal of sewage, preparation of food in hygienic settings and practicing simple personal hygiene practices reduce the risk of infection. Outside the home setting, people are cautioned to eat from reliable outlets where the individuals are free from contamination. Governments also have a responsibility in providing access to clean water and managing outbreaks to control their spread. 

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