Diagnosis of Cholera

on 6.2.09 with 0 comments

Cholera should be suspected in acute massive rice-water diarrhoea, certainly if there have been several cases in a short time (epidemic). The clinical picture of severe cholera is so spectacular that differential diagnosis does not present many difficulties. Milder cholera may be similar to other forms of gastro-enteritis (but not to dysentery). A child above the age of five years who develops acute dehydration, or dies as the result of acute diarrhoea, is always suggestive for cholera.

The vibrios are very small and can best be seen in a fresh faecal specimen with the help of dark field microscopy. There is characteristic motility ("star shooting") which stops immediately after adding anti-O1 antiserum. This does not give any information on possible toxin production. Confirmation is best made via a bacteriological culture. Culturing should preferably be on a special medium in a bacteriology lab, e.g. TCBS-agar [= Thiosulphate-Citrate-Bile salts-Sucrose], polymyxin mannose tellurite agar (PMT) or an other selective medium. In order to identify the serogroup and the serotype one subsequently finds out to which antibodies (antiserum) the colonies obtained exhibit an agglutination reaction. It is also possible to find out whether the vibrios are toxicogenic (produce toxin). Definitive identification is made in a reference laboratory.

Specimens may be transported in a transport medium, e.g. Cary-Blair. This is a kind of mild alkaline gelatine in seawater in which the bacteria will survive for 4 weeks. If it is not available, a filter paper can be soaked with faeces and transported in an airtight bag to a well-equipped laboratory. A sample treated in this way remains usable for 1 week, but the recommendation is "the faster the analysis, the more reliable". Blotting paper, soaked with liquid faeces and if possible placed in a 1% saline solution, can be kept for several weeks at 37 (not in the freezer). This is useful if there are initial transport problems. Nevertheless it is better to have a fresh faecal specimen. For specimens from the environment or from food, in which the number of bacteria is much lower than in faeces, enrichment is necessary. The specimen can be incubated for 8 hours in alkaline peptone water, after which a TCBS agar is used.

About 10 days after infection with V. cholerae O1 the patient produces vibrocidal antibodies. They start diminishing after only one month and disappear within the year. Antibodies against cholera toxin are produced more slowly and remain for years. However, these cross-react with enterotoxin produced by ETEC bacteria [enterotoxic Escherichia coli]. The immune response to V. cholerae O139 is not well understood. The detection of antibodies is not important for the urgent care of the individual patient, but does permit retrospective diagnosis.

Category: Medical Subject Notes , Microbiology Notes



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