What is cholera?

Cholera is an acute bacterial illness caused by infection of the intestinal tract with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Cholera may produce severe gastrointestinal symptoms, including profuse, watery diarrhea, as well as vomiting and dehydration.

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Cholera is typically transmitted through water or foods that have been contaminated with fecal matter from a person who is infected with the disease. Cholera can spread rapidly, and epidemics may occur after fecal contamination of food or water supplies, but the infection is not transmitted by casual person-to-person contact.

Cholera is extremely rare in countries that have modern water and sewage treatment facilities. In fact, only about five cases of cholera are reported in the United States every year. Occasionally, scattered outbreaks have occurred in the United States, resulting from consumption of raw or undercooked shellfish from the Gulf of Mexico. However, cholera is a major cause of illness in the developing world, with approximately three to five million cases occurring worldwide each year. Most reported cases of cholera are in Africa. Travelers to affected countries should be cautious about food and water choices (Source: CDC).

Symptoms of cholera typically appear 24 to 48 hours after infection, but can appear anywhere from a few hours to five days after infection. Most patients have only very mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all. Only five percent of infected individuals develop severe symptoms. Fortunately, fluid replacement and antibiotic therapy are effective treatments for cholera infection and can prevent serious complications.

Left untreated, cholera can lead to potentially life-threatening complications. Severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can occur, resulting in shock, coma, and even death within a few hours. Seek prompt medical care if you develop diarrhea and vomiting or you think you may have been exposed to cholera. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have symptoms of severe dehydration, such as confusion, lethargy, loss of consciousness, cold skin, sunken eyes, weak pulse, or reduced urine production.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of cholera?

You may experience symptoms of cholera anytime from a few hours to five days after becoming infected. It is important to remember that similar symptoms occur in many different diseases and are unlikely to be associated with cholera unless you have recently traveled in developing countries. Early symptoms include:... Read more about cholerasymptoms

CAUSES

What causes cholera?

Cholera is a contagious disease caused by infection with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The infection is spread through food or water that has been contaminated with fecal matter from an infected person. In many cases, the infected person handled the food without proper hand washing. Casual contact does not spread the disease. Less commonly, you can become infected by eating shellfish taken from waters contaminated by raw sewage.... Read more about choleracauses

TREATMENTS

How is cholera treated?

If you are experiencing symptoms and think you might have been exposed to cholera, contact your health care provider. The mainstay of cholera treatment is replenishment of fluids and electrolytes to prevent serious complications of dehydration. With proper rehydration treatment, less than 1% of people with cholera will die. Left untreated, however, cholera can produce life-threatening dehydration.... Read more about choleratreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Digestive System


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