Symptoms and Signs of Cholera

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Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Doctor's Notes on Cholera

Cholera is a highly contagious gastrointestinal infection caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholera that is characterized by dehydrating watery diarrhea. Cholera signs and symptoms may be asymptomatic or mild, but about 20% of infected people develop severe, uncontrollable watery diarrhea that is nearly clear and does not stop. Nausea and vomiting occur but with only a little abdominal pain and cramping. If the fluid and electrolytes lost in diarrhea is not quickly replaced, symptoms of dehydration (thirst, dry mouth, weakness, low urine production, fast heart rate and low blood pressure) can occur. Other severe symptoms are weight loss, sunken appearance to the eyes, loose skin, mottled purple blotches on the extremities, sleepiness and become unresponsive. Dehydration can become life-threatening as blood pressure drops (hypovolemic shock) and death occurs.

Cholera is caused by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholera. The bacteria produce an enterotoxin that triggers the intestines to excrete large amounts of fluid containing the bacteria until the body’s immune system slows and stops the toxic effects producing fluid secretion or when the patient dies.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.