A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Cholera Go Down

Complex sugar used to detect cholera in water sources

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Researchers in Central Florida have developed a fast, inexpensive detection tool for cholera, a bacterial disease that infects millions of people worldwide.

Cholera is a bacterial infection of the intestine that results in excessive watery diarrhea that causes severe dehydration and in some cases death. There are between three and five million cases of infection worldwide and around 100,000 people die every year from the disease. The disease has the potential to kill within hours if left untreated and commonly results from contaminated water and food.

Haiti has been heavily hit by the disease since the 2010 earthquake and over 3,000 people have already died. Recently, researchers at the University of Central Florida found a way to test water sources for the cholera bacterium by using a sugar particle called dextran.

The new technique would prove less costly and provide results more rapidly than current tests, allowing public officials and workers to more swiftly identify and close off contaminated water sources. The sugar could also one day be used to treat people already infected with cholera.

This method of detecting cholera may also be applicable to identifying other toxins. In addition, since the particles used are relatively inexpensive to produce, developing countries like Haiti can easily provide these screening tests.

The instruments involved could also potentially be made more compact and transformed into mobile tools that workers can take out into the field with them.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 19, 2011
Last Updated:
January 19, 2011