The likelihood of becoming seriously ill from cholera depends on your blood group. It is possible to find a new remedy for the feared illness by studying the molecular structure in the toxin in the cholera bacteria.
Three to five million people are infected by cholera ever year. The mortality rate is high: one hundred thousand people die from the feared illness every year.
'Cholera depends on the blood group. Some blood groups have an increased risk of becoming seriously ill', says Professor Ute Krengel in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Oslo.
When cholera bacteria multiply in the body, they create an awful toxin called cholera toxin. The toxin must bind to the cell membrane before it can penetrate further into the intestinal cell and create trouble.
By studying the molecular structure of cholera toxins, researchers can discover how the toxins bind to intestinal cells at the level of the atom.
Krengel's goal is to find a new medicine that prevents the cholera toxin from binding to the intestine and that ensures that the toxin is harmlessly dispelled from the body.
Cholera leads to violent diarrhea. The patient can lose up to 12 litres of fluids every 24 hours. The treatment is a saline fluid replacement.
'It must be administered as soon as possible and in large quantities. If the patient is unconscious already, the saline solution must be given intravenously. Antibiotics are of no use', explains Professor Gunnar Bjune in the Institute of Health and Society at the University of Oslo.
Blood group O is the worst
The cholera bacterium is originally from Bangladesh, but in the past two centuries, it has spread to much of the world and has established a firm footing in many Asian and African countries.
'Patients with blood group O are most at risk of becoming seriously ill. Those with blood groups A, B or AB are more protected against cholera', says Ute Krengel.
The Bangladeshi population is evenly distributed between blood groups O, A and B. In Africa, most people have blood group O. Nearly everyone in the indigenous population in Latin America have group O. When cholera hits these areas, it hits especially hard.