BACKGROUND: Behavioural risk factors for cholera are well established in rural and semi-urban contexts, but not in densely populated mega-cities in Sub-Saharan Africa. In November 2017, a cholera epidemic occurred in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where no outbreak had been recorded for nearly a decade. During this outbreak, we investigated context-specific risk factors for cholera in an urban setting among a population that is not frequently exposed to cholera.
METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We recruited 390 participants from three affected health zones of Kinshasa into a 1:1 matched case control study. Cases were identified from cholera treatment centre admission records, while controls were recruited from the vicinity of the cases' place of residence. We used standardized case report forms for the collection of socio-demographic and behavioural risk factors. We used augmented backward elimination in a conditional logistic regression model to identify risk factors. The consumption of sachet water was strongly associated with the risk of being a cholera case (p-value 0.019), which increased with increasing frequency of consumption from rarely (OR 2.2, 95% CI 0.9-5.2) to often (OR 4.0, 95% CI 1.6-9.9) to very often (OR 4.1, 95% CI 1.0-16.7). Overall, more than 80% of all participants reported consumption of this type of drinking water. The risk factors funeral attendance and contact with someone suffering from diarrhoea showed a p-value of 0.09 and 0.08, respectively. No socio-demographic characteristics were associated with the risk of cholera.
CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Drinking water consumption from sachets, which are sold informally on the streets in most Sub-Saharan African cities, are an overlooked route of infection in urban cholera outbreaks. Outbreak response measures need to acknowledge context-specific risk factors to remain a valuable tool in the efforts to achieve national and regional targets to reduce the burden of cholera in Sub-Saharan Africa.