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What Is Cholera?

Patient Comments
  • Cholera is a highly contagious gastrointestinal infection caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.
  • Cholera is endemic in most countries, but disease does not occur in industrialized countries with water and sewage treatment systems. Cholera is a product of poor sanitation and lack of proper water treatment, so it occurs in areas of poverty, areas where disasters or war have disrupted social structure, and where refugees have concentrated in camps with poor water sanitation and sewage disposal.
  • Cholera is transmitted by contaminated food or water.
  • Worldwide, up to 140,000 die yearly due to cholera.
  • Cholera cases have increased since 2005. It still occurs in many places, including Africa, Southeast Asia, and Haiti.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa remains most often affected by cholera and suffers the highest death rate because of poor access to water, sanitation, hygiene, and basic health-care resources.
  • Southeast Asia has had increased cases due to flooding, dense population, and lack of clean water, sanitation, and hygiene resources.
  • One of the worst outbreaks in recent history began in Haiti in 2010 in the year after the catastrophic earthquake that left 200,000 dead and over 1 million people homeless. Despite rapid response and control by public-health agencies, cholera cases are still occurring and will do so until water systems are adequate to prevent it.
  • People who may be at risk for cholera include military personnel, humanitarian aid workers, missionary workers, and adventure travelers to such areas.
  • Cholera is often severely debilitating and lethal because of rapid dehydration and lack of access to medical support.
  • Because of high-volume diarrhea and a potent toxin, it easily contaminates water, and it often spreads explosively in outbreaks.
  • Despite high infectivity and ease of spread, prevention and treatment of cholera is relatively straightforward.
Map of cholera outbreaks from 2010-2014
Map of cholera outbreaks from 2010-2014; SOURCE: CDC

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/20/2017

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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Cholera:

Cholera - Experience

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Cholera - Treatment

What treatment did you receive for cholera?

Cholera Prevention During Foreign Travel

Although cholera calls up visions of medieval plagues and can be a major cause of anxiety in tourists, it is really very hard to catch. The risk of cholera has been estimated at two cases per million travelers.

Cholera is a problem in areas where significant amounts of human waste contaminate food or water. The level of contamination must be very high, because a large number of the cholera bacteria must be ingested to cause the disease. This causes the food to smell or taste so bad that few tourists are tempted to eat it. Occasionally, the foul taste is covered with spicy sauces. Raw shellfish have been a source of disease in some areas.

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