The National Department of Health said the outbreak of cholera in neighbouring countries has led to the government intensifying screening efforts at South Africa’s borders.
One of the countries facing a cholera outbreak is Zimbabwe, which declared a state of emergency in November due to the rising number of cases.
Health spokesperson Foster Mohale said the department is working together with the Border Management Authority, among other stakeholders, in an effort to prevent the spread of cholera into the country.
“We have intensified health screening services and health education at the land ports of entry to mitigate against the cross border transmission of the disease,” he said. The department urged all travellers returning from cholera-endemic areas, including Zimbabwe, to be vigilant of cholera symptoms and co-operate with health officials, and be transparent.
“All suspected cholera patients will be referred to the nearest health facilities for testing,” said Mohale.
Hand hygiene is one of the effective and preventive measures against bacterial diseases like cholera, he said.
Cholera is an infectious disease from a bacterium called Vibrio cholerae that causes severe watery diarrhoea.
In May, The Mercury reported that there was an outbreak of cholera in Gauteng where 15 people lost their lives in Hammanskraal. Cases were also detected in parts of the Free State.
At the time of the report, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases had urged provinces such as KwaZulu-Natal, where cholera cases have not been detected, to be vigilant and report any suspected cases to the Department of Health.
The department said that 15 countries in Africa were experiencing an outbreak in cholera, including South Africa, and it would be increasing surveillance of cholera in both imported and locally transmitted cases.
“Given the ongoing outbreaks of cholera in the southern African region there is a high possibility of continued imported cases to South Africa. We have detected a rapid increase in the number of local transmissions and associated deaths,” said Aneliswa Cele, a representative from the department at the time of the report.
Dr Avashri Harrichandparsad, from the Department of Public Health Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal said the main concern around the spread of cholera in the current situation is through contamination of food and drinking water through poor hand hygiene.
“If a person who is infected does not wash their hands properly after using the toilet, their hands may be soiled with faecal material which can then contaminate food and drinking water,” she said.
For this reason, Harrichandparsad said, screening efforts at South African’s borders with Zimbabwe are being intensified, adding that during this period particularly, there is an increase in travel from Zimbabwe to South Africa after the festive season.
“Common symptoms are watery diarrhoea, vomiting and leg cramps – people who suspect they have been infected should seek medical assistance immediately as dehydration can be fatal,” she said.
Harrichandparsad said the main treatment is rehydration with oral rehydration solution or IV fluids.