What is cholera?
Cholera is an acute, diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with the toxigenic bacterium Vibrio cholerae.
People who get cholera often have mild symptoms or no symptoms, but cholera can be severe. Approximately 1 in 10 people who get sick with cholera will develop severe symptoms such as watery diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps. In these people, rapid loss of body fluids leads to dehydration and shock. Without treatment, death can occur within hours.
Where is cholera found?
The cholera bacterium is usually found in water or in foods that have been contaminated by feces (poop) from a person infected with cholera bacteria. Cholera is most likely to occur and spread in places with inadequate water treatment, poor sanitation, and inadequate hygiene.
How does a person get cholera?
A person can get cholera by drinking water or eating food contaminated with cholera bacteria. In an epidemic, the source of the contamination is usually the feces of an infected person that contaminates water or food.
The disease can spread rapidly in areas with inadequate treatment of sewage and drinking water.
The infection is not likely to spread directly from one person to another; therefore, casual contact with an infected person is not a risk factor for becoming ill.
What are the symptoms of cholera?
Cholera infection is often mild or without symptoms, but can be severe. Approximately 1 in 10 people who get sick with cholera will develop severe symptoms such as watery diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps. In these people, rapid loss of body fluids leads to dehydration and shock. Without treatment, death can occur within hours.
How long after infection do the symptoms appear?
It usually takes 2-3 days for symptoms to appear after a person ingests cholera bacteria, but the time can range from a few hours to 5 days.
Who is most likely to get cholera?
Persons living in places with unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation, and inadequate hygiene are at the highest risk for cholera.
What should I do if I or someone I know gets sick?
If you think you or a member of your family might have cholera, seek medical attention immediately. Dehydration can be rapid so fluid replacement is essential.
If you have oral rehydration solution (ORS), start taking it immediately; it can save a life. Continue to drink ORS at home and while traveling to get medical treatment. If an infant has watery diarrhea, continue breastfeeding.
How is cholera diagnosed?
To test for cholera, doctors must take a stool sample or a rectal swab and send it to a laboratory to look for the cholera bacteria.
What is the treatment for cholera?
Cholera can be simply and successfully treated by immediate replacement of the fluid and salts lost through diarrhea.
Patients can be treated with oral rehydration solution (ORS), a prepackaged mixture of sugar and salts that is mixed with 1 liter of water and drunk in large amounts.
This solution is used throughout the world to treat diarrhea. Severe cases also require intravenous fluid replacement. With prompt appropriate rehydration, fewer than 1% of cholera patients die.
Antibiotics shorten the course and diminish the severity of the illness, but they are not as important as rehydration.
Persons who develop severe diarrhea and vomiting in countries where cholera occurs should seek medical attention promptly.
Should I be worried about getting cholera from others?
The disease is not likely to spread directly from one person to another; therefore, casual contact with an infected person is not a risk factor for becoming ill.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention