What is cholera?
Cholera is an infectious disease caused by bacteria. You can get cholera if you eat food or drink water that is contaminated with the
Cholera is a health problem in many developing countries. It’s mainly found in Africa,
south Asia, and Latin America. It is rare in developed countries like the U.S. But
there have been some outbreaks in the U.S. They have been caused by contaminated seafood
that travelers have brought into the country.
The acids in your stomach and digestive tract can kill small amounts of the cholera
bacteria. Because of this, most infected people will not have any symptoms. But the
bacteria are still in their stool for 7 to 14 days. During that time, they can infect
other people. This is especially true if they have poor hygiene habits.
What causes cholera?
The cholera bacteria are often found in water supplies made unclean because of the
unsanitary disposal of stool. Cholera is rarely passed from one person to another.
It is often spread by drinking water or eating food from:
- City water supplies
- Ice made from city water
- Foods and drinks bought from street vendors
- Vegetables irrigated with fresh sewage
- Raw or improperly cooked fish and seafood taken from waters polluted with sewage
What are the symptoms of cholera?
Most people who get symptoms have a mild to moderate upset stomach. Worse cases may
cause vomiting and watery diarrhea, called “rice-water stools.” These symptoms may
lead to dehydration. Signs and symptoms may include:
- A very rapid heart rate
- Dry mucous membranes
- Very low blood pressure
- Muscle cramps
If untreated, severe dehydration can lead to shock and death. People with weakened
immune systems are at greater risk of dying from the infection.
How is cholera diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your past health and travel history. You will
also need an exam and blood tests.
How is cholera treated?
For diarrhea that is worse than normal, see a healthcare provider. Don’t treat it
on your own. Seek medical help if diarrhea becomes severe and watery, or if vomiting
Your healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment for you based on:
- How old you are
- Your overall health and past health
- How sick you are
- How well you can handle specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
- How long the condition is expected to last
- Your opinion or preference
You may need to be rehydrated with fluids. Your healthcare provider may prescribe
antibiotics to help you get better faster.
What are the complications of cholera?
If left untreated, the diarrhea from cholera can cause severe dehydration. That can
lead to shock and even death.
Can cholera be prevented?
One of the best ways to prevent cholera is to wash your hands often.
If you are traveling in an area where cholera is common, only use water that has been
boiled or chemically disinfected for:
- Drinking or making beverages such as tea or coffee
- Brushing your teeth
- Washing your face and hands
- Washing fruits and vegetables
- Washing eating utensils and food preparation equipment
- Washing the surfaces of tins, cans, and bottles that contain food or beverages
You should also not eat or drink foods or beverages from unknown sources. Any raw
food could be contaminated, including:
- Fruits, vegetables, and salad greens
- Unpasteurized milk and milk products
- Raw meat
- Any fish caught in tropical reefs rather than the open ocean
No vaccine is available in the U.S. But 2 oral shots are available abroad. At this
time, no country requires the shot for entry if a person arrives from a country with
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Call your healthcare provider if your symptoms return or get worse, or you have new
Key points about cholera
- Cholera is an infectious disease caused by bacteria. You can get cholera if you eat
or drink foods that are contaminated with the bacteria.
- The cholera bacteria are usually found in unclean water supplies because of the unsanitary
disposal of stool.
- Cholera is mainly found in Africa, south Asia, and Latin America.
- Cholera can cause severe diarrhea. That may make you dehydrated.
- To prevent cholera, you should wash your hands often. Drink only boiled or disinfected
water. Do not eat food from unknown sources.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also
know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that
- Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.