Avatar photo

By Faizel Patel

Senior Digital Journalist


‘Don’t panic’: Health minister calls for vigilance as SA records two cholera cases

The cases have been attributed to two sisters who had travelled together from Johannesburg to Malawi to attend a funeral


The health department has urged South Africans not to panic after South Africa recorded two cholera cases in the country.

The cases have been attributed to two sisters who had travelled together from Johannesburg to Malawi to attend a funeral service and returned by bus on 30 January 2023.

Both patients had developed cholera symptoms on their return to Johannesburg which was detected by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

Cases

Doctor Tshwale spokesperson for Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla told The Citizen both patients had developed cholera symptoms on their return to Johannesburg.

“One patient presented to a local clinic and was then admitted to hospital. During the case investigation and follow-up of close contacts, the sister reported that she also developed diarrhoea whilst travelling back from Malawi but it resolved within a day and she did not seek health care.” 

“A close contact (household family member) of one of the cases/patients was admitted to hospital on 4 February with diarrhoea and dehydration and is considered a possible case. Laboratory test results are pending and follow-up of close contacts is ongoing,” Tshwale said.

ALSO READ: Cholera remains a global threat

Don’t panic

Tshwale has urged South African’s not to panic.

“The expression from the department is that there shouldn’t be any panic because the department together with the provincial departments of health are on top of the situation.”

Tshwale said the health department is prepared to deal with any spread of cholera in the country.

“The national department together with the provincial departments have outbreak teams. So, immediately when these cases came through, the provincial department in Gauteng activated the outbreak team to seek out the cases that have been reported.”

“This is to make sure that we are able to closely monitor them so that there is no spread of cholera and also advise their families who live closely with them,” he said.

Borders

Tshwale said the department has also requested provinces that share borders with other countries to monitor people entering South Africa.

“We have requested provinces that share borders like Limpopo, which is the main corridor that travellers from Malawi come through.”

“It is also to make sure that health border officials are able to track and ensure they check everyone who pass through there and if there are any cases, they are referred to the nearest health facility,” Tshwale said.

What is cholera?

Cholera is an acute enteric infection caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae. The outbreaks usually occur in settings with inadequate sanitation and insufficient access to safe drinking water.

Cholera typically causes acute watery diarrhoea and can affect people of all ages and mainly spreads through contaminated/polluted water.

People can become infected directly through drinking contaminated water, or indirectly through eating contaminated food.

The infection is often mild or without symptoms, but can sometimes be severe and life-threatening. 

Symptoms

Symptoms range from mild to severe and watery diarrhoea and dehydration.

The health department said cholera is often predictable and preventable.

“People are urged to ensure proper hand-hygiene which includes thorough washing of hands with water and soap before and after using the bathroom/toilet, and preparing or eating food.”

Precautions

It said the use of only safe or disinfected water for preparing food, beverages and ice is recommended to prevent possible cholera transmission include.

“Safe disposal of human excrement and nappies is recommended. The department is working closely with the affected province, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and World Health Organisation to closely monitor the situation.”  

“All people experiencing symptoms, such as diarrhoea and dehydration, with or without travel history to cholera outbreak countries, are urged to report to their nearest health facilities for health screening and early detection,” it said.

No travel

The World Health Organization (WHO) does not recommend any travel or trade restrictions on countries based on current available information in line with the international health regulations, the department said.

“The port health officials at the ports of entry remain on alert for travellers arriving from countries experiencing cholera outbreak.”

Cholera in SA

The department said cholera was not endemic to South Africa, and the last outbreak was in 2008/9, with about 12 000 cases.

“That resulted from an outbreak in Zimbabwe which led to surge of imported cases and subsequent local transmission in Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces through contaminated water,” it said.

ALSO READ: Malawi asks more vaccines to battle cholera outbreak

Read more on these topics

cholera Dr Joe Phaahla Health Department Malawi

Access premium news and stories

Access to the top content, vouchers and other member only benefits