The Blue Death: How Cholera Got This Name

Get to know one of the cruelest enemies of humankind.

Cholera is one of the deadliest diseases to affect our planet and is consistently ranked among the diseases that have killed the most people in history. This deadly disease was feared throughout the 1800s and it is prevalent even today.

The most terrifying aspect of cholera is it can cause death within hours after the symptoms first appear if left untreated. The effects that cholera has on the body notoriously gave it the name the Blue Death.

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How does cholera affect the human body?

Cholera is a diarrheal disease that causes the human body to quickly lose valuable fluid. The fluid keeps on losing to the extent that the body no longer can function properly. A bacteria called Vibrio Cholerae is the culprit behind this disease.

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This bacterium thrives in aquatic conditions. It can even live dormant or in inactive states when faced with adverse conditions. It is possible to eliminate most cholera bacteria with bleach or chlorine.

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However, sometimes they are resistant to chlorine.

When a person ingests cholera affected water or food, they are paving the way for the virus to enter the human body with relative ease. The acids produced in the stomach can kill cholera viruses. However, things become quite grim once the bacteria enters the intestinal area.

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Once the bacteria is in the digestive tract, it begins to produce a protein called Choleragen (also known as CTX). The protein affects the lining of the digestive tract by binding to the intestinal walls. This further prompts the body to produce significantly more water and sodium flow.

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This extra fluid loss occurs through diarrhea and vomiting.

When the human body loses so much fluid, it causes hypovolemic shock where the blood becomes too thick as there is no fluid to lighten it. Once this happens, the blood will not be able to circulate through the body due to the high viscosity.

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Death happens when the body can no longer recirculate blood.

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Other symptoms of cholera include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Dehydration
  • Dry mucosa
  • Oliguria
  • Nausea
  • Muscle cramps

How did cholera get the name Blue death?

Cholera got the name the Blue Death because the victims show a blue tint on their skin after being affected with the bacteria. Cholera has had many names in the past.

The French used to call it the Dog’ death. The other names include the Blue Terror and the Black Cholera. These frightening names pale in comparison when we look at the devastating effects that Cholera has on the human body.

An adult human body carries 44 liters of water. This water content inside the body gets distributed among the organs and the cells.

Cholera can accelerate the water discharge in the body to an extent that on a worse day, the body can lose about 20 liters of water in 24 hours.

And, the disease will not give any prior indication of its onset. The person can be healthy in the morning, but once the bacteria activates, he/she could be in shock, suffering the deadly effects of the disease by evening.

If proper treatment is not given at the right time, the person can succumb to death in just 12 hours.

When the human body loses so much water, there will be changes to the outward appearance of the body. The eyes sink, the skin will start to lose its elasticity, and the teeth protrude.

The blood becomes thick and the skins turn blue due to high dehydration. Hence the name the Blue Death.

Destruction of human lives through history: The cholera pandemics

An endemic is a disease that affects a particular region or population. It is largely contained within that boundary. A pandemic is a disease that has worldwide effects.

When we look back in history, cholera has been mostly pandemic and has killed millions, and it happened in waves throughout history. This earned it the name the Cholera Pandemic.

However, the origin of cholera is still a dispute. There have been accounts of such a disease that dates back to 5th century B.C in India and 4th Century B.C in Greece.

Cholera pandemic 1: The first Cholera pandemic stated in the Ganges Delta located in India. The disease was first recorded in 1817 where the cause of the outbreak was attributed to contaminated rice.

The disease spread to modern-day Myanmar and Sri Lanka. By 1820 to 1822, the disease spread to Japan and China. The pandemic was over by 1824, but by then, the list of affected places included Oman, Persian Gulf, modern-day Turkey, and European Territory.

Cholera Pandemic 2: The second cholera pandemic started in 1829. The regions affected by the disease include Russia, Germany, Hungary, Egypt, London, Paris, Quebec, New York, Mexico, and Cuba. The pandemic came to an end in 1837.

Cholera Pandemic 3: The third cholera Pandemic is the deadliest of all time. The third pandemic started in 1852 spreading over Asia, Europe, Africa, and North America.

The pandemic ended in 1859.

Cholera Pandemic 4: The fourth one started in 1863. The origin was identified to be the Ganges Delta of the Bengal region, India. The disease traveled to Mecca along with Muslim pilgrims from where it spread to the Middle East, Russia, Africa, North America, and Europe. The pandemic ended in 1875.

Cholera Pandemic 5: The fifth cholera pandemic started in 1881 and affected Europe, America, Russia, Span, Japan, Persia. Among the cholera pandemics, the fourth and fifth had the lowest casualties. The pandemic came to an end in 1896.

Cholera Pandemic 6: The sixth pandemic which started in 1899 did the least damage to western Europe because of the improved public health measures and water supply systems. The disease affected places like Russia, Philippines, Mecca, and India.

The pandemic ended in 1923 and by now many countries had safe measures installed for preventing further outbreak of cholera.

Cholera Pandemic 7: The seventh Cholera pandemic started in Indonesia. The disease affected Bangladesh, India, North Africa, Italy, and USSR. It ended in 1975.

We haven’t seen a Cholera Pandemic after the 1980s, thanks to improved water systems and treatment methods adopted by the many counties around the world. That said, there have been Cholera outbreaks which are mostly restricted to African Sub continents.

We saw such a breakout in 2017 where it affected 500,000 people in Yemen.

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Cholera is a disease that has demonstrated its deadly nature over several years in the history of mankind. However, modern treatments are far more effective. It is possible to treat cholera by administering fluids to the body, provided the patient gets the medical attention without much delay.

We must follow hygienic measures in both maintaining our body as well as in the preparation of food to ensure that we remain immune to such deadly diseases.

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