Cholera

Last Reviewed: October 2011

What is cholera?

Cholera is a bacterial disease that affects the intestinal tract. It is caused by a germ called Vibrio cholerae. Although only a few cases are recognized in the United States each year, epidemic levels of cholera have recently been reported in parts of Central and South America.

Who gets cholera?

While cholera is a rare disease in the U.S., those who may be at risk include people traveling to foreign countries where outbreaks are occurring and people who consume raw or undercooked seafood from warm coastal waters subject to sewage contamination. In both instances, the risk is small.

How is the germ spread?

The cholera germ is passed in the stools. It is spread by eating or drinking food or water contaminated by the fecal waste of an infected person. This occurs more often in underdeveloped countries lacking adequate water supplies and proper sewage disposal.

What are the symptoms of cholera?

People exposed to cholera may experience mild to severe diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration. Fever is usually absent.

How soon do symptoms appear?

The symptoms may appear from a few hours to five days after exposure.

What is the treatment for cholera?

Because of the rapid dehydration that may result from severe diarrhea, replacement of fluids by mouth or by the intravenous route is critical. Antibiotics, such as tetracycline, are also used to shorten the duration of diarrhea and shedding of the germs in the feces.

Is there a vaccine for cholera?

CDC does not recommend cholera vaccines for most travelers, nor is the vaccine available in the United States. This is because the available vaccines offer incomplete protection for a relatively short period.

How can cholera be prevented?

The single most important preventive measure is to avoid consuming uncooked foods or water in foreign countries where cholera occurs unless they are known to be safe or have been properly treated.