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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?
Quick GuideTravel Health: Vaccines & Preventing Diseases Abroad
Is cholera contagious?
It takes about 100 million V. cholerae bacteria to infect a healthy adult. Because of this high number, significant contamination of food or water is required to transmit the disease, and direct person-to-person transmission is thought to be uncommon except in outbreaks. In outbreaks, cholera-causing bacteria become highly contagious indirectly and directly by the fecal-oral route because of widespread fecal contamination of food, water, and items like contaminated bedding and clothing.
What is the incubation period for cholera?
The incubation period (time period from exposure to the bacteria to the development of symptoms) may vary from a few hours (about six to 12 hours) to five days, with the average incubation period being about two to three days. About six to 12 hours is considered a very rapid incubation period and may suggest that rapid/immediate intervention is required for recovery.
What is the contagious period for cholera?
The contagious period for cholera begins as soon as organisms are excreted in the feces. This can occur as early as about six to 12 hours after exposure to the bacteria and can last for about seven to 14 days. Some individuals who are asymptomatic (infected but not having symptoms) will also excrete contagious organisms for about seven to 14 days.
What physicians usually treat cholera?
Because most individuals have either mild or no symptoms, these people are either not treated or treated by their primary-care physician. However, in some children and in individuals who have more severe disease, besides the primary-care physician or pediatrician, an infectious-disease specialist, a critical-care specialist, a gastroenterologist, and/or an internist may be needed to help the team manage and treat the patient.
In addition, specialists in travel medicine and/or epidemiology can help individuals avoid cholera and/or can give advice about prevention, treatment, and prognosis to those individuals traveling to or living in endemic areas.
How do health-care professionals diagnose cholera?
Preliminary diagnosis is usually done by a caregiver who takes a history from the patient and observes the characteristic rice-water diarrhea, especially if a local outbreak of cholera has identified. The diarrhea fluid is often teeming with motile, comma-shaped bacteria (presumptively V. cholerae) that can be seen with a microscope. The definitive diagnosis is made by isolation of the bacteria from diarrhea fluid. All state health department laboratories in the U.S. are able to perform tests for Vibrio cholerae. Readers may see terms like serotypes Inaba, Ogawa, and Hikojima to describe V. cholerae; they simply indicate which O antigens (O antigens designated A, B, or C) are found on these strains of V. cholerae. PCR tests have also been developed to detect the genetic material of cholera, but currently they are not as widely used as the immunologic tests based on type-specific antiserum.
Definitive diagnosis helps to distinguish cholera from other diseases caused by other bacterial, protozoal, or viral pathogens that cause dysentery (gastrointestinal inflammation with diarrhea).