Cholera is caused by a specific bacteria. This bacterium releases a toxin that causes rapid loss of fluids from the small intestines. Cholera is spread by ingesting food or water contaminated by fecal waste. It is common in countries that lack proper sewage disposal.
Factors that increase your risk of getting cholera include:
- Age: Children 2-5 years of age are most affected
- Eating contaminated food or fluids
- Eating raw or undercooked shellfish
- Living or traveling in areas where cholera is present
- Having blood group O
- Having a weakened immune system
- Having low levels of stomach acid
Symptoms of cholera begin quickly and can be severe. They include:
- Sudden onset of painless, watery diarrhea without blood or pus
- Muscle cramps
The severity of symptoms ranges from mild, short-lived diarrhea to shock and death due to extreme fluid loss. Most symptoms occur one to three days after exposure.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. It is important to tell your doctor about any recent travel to areas where cholera is common. If cholera is suspected, stool and blood samples will be tested.
The first priority in treating cholera is to replace fluids and electrolytes lost through diarrhea . In severe cases, uncorrected dehydration can be fatal. Hydration solutions can be given orally or through an IV.
Antibiotic medications may help shorten the course of the disease in severe cases. They may also be given to the people you live with to prevent them from becoming ill.
Careful Eating Habits
You can prevent cholera by avoiding contaminated food and fluids in areas where cholera occurs. Currently, these areas include parts of these countries and continents:
- South America
- Central America
When traveling in these areas, you are advised to:
- Drink only bottled or boiled water
- Eat only well-cooked foods that are served hot
- Avoid all raw or undercooked shellfish
- Avoid salads
- Avoid raw vegetables that you have not peeled yourself
- Carry oral rehydration solution (ORS) and know how to use it if you develop severe diarrhea
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 08/2013 -
- Update Date: 05/11/2013 -