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- Patient Comments: Cholera - Symptoms and Signs
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- Cholera facts
- What is cholera?
- What is the history of cholera?
- What are cholera symptoms and signs?
- What causes cholera, and how is cholera transmitted?
- What are risk factors for cholera, and where do cholera outbreaks occur?
- Is cholera contagious?
- What is the incubation period for cholera?
- What is the contagious period for cholera?
- What physicians usually treat cholera?
- How do health-care professionals diagnose cholera?
- What is the treatment for cholera?
- Is it possible to prevent cholera? Are cholera vaccines available?
- What is the prognosis of cholera?
- Where can people find more information about cholera?
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What is cholera?
Cholera is an acute infectious disease caused by a bacterium, Vibrio cholerae (V. cholerae), which usually results in a painless, watery diarrhea in humans. Some affected individuals have copious amounts of diarrhea and develop dehydration so severe it can lead to death. Most people who get the disease ingest the organisms through food or water sources contaminated with V. cholerae. Although symptoms may be mild, some previously healthy people will develop a copious diarrhea within about one to five days after ingesting the bacteria. Severe disease requires prompt medical care. Hydration (usually by IV for the very ill) of the patient, and antibiotics in some individuals, is the key to surviving the severe form of the disease.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has maps of current and past areas with cholera outbreaks (see WHO reference). It is estimated that about 1.4 million to 4.3 million people are infected worldwide each year, with approximately 28,000-142,000 deaths per year. Only about one in 10 people infected with cholera develop the typical signs and symptoms. Outbreaks of cholera in 2015-2016 include South Sudan, United Republic of Tanzania, and Kenya, with over 216 deaths and most recently, 121 people diagnosed with cholera in Iraq, their first outbreak since 2012 and in Cuba, the first outbreak in over 130 years.
The term cholera has a long history (see history section below) and has been assigned to several other diseases. For example, fowl or chicken cholera is a disease that can rapidly kill chickens and other avian species rapidly with a major symptom of diarrhea. However, the disease-causing agent in fowl is Pasteurella multocida, a gram-negative bacterium. Similarly, pig cholera (also termed hog or swine cholera) can cause rapid death (in about 15 days) in pigs with symptoms of fever, skin lesions, and seizures. This disease is caused by a pestivirus termed CSFV (classical swine fever virus). Neither one of these animal diseases are related to human cholera, but the terminology can be confusing.