Cholera Symptoms and Signs
The symptoms and signs of cholera are a watery diarrhea that often contains flecks of whitish material (mucus and some epithelial cells) that are about the size of pieces of rice. The diarrhea is termed "rice-water stool" and smells "fishy."
What is cholera?
Cholera is an infectious disease caused by bacteria named Vibrio cholerae. Cholera causes profuse diarrhea episodes and vomiting. The cause of cholera are toxins secreted by the Vibrio cholerae bacteria. Microscopically, these bacteria appear curved (comma-shaped) and have a negative Gram stain. Cholera causes severe loss of fluid and electrolytes from the body due to vomiting and profuse diarrhea. Less frequently, some people infected have few or no symptoms. If fluids and electrolytes are not restored to the individual, more severe symptoms, including dehydration and shock, may occur quickly (about 12-48 hours). Death occurs in about 15%-20% of patients who develop severe symptoms and signs.
Is cholera contagious?
Cholera is highly contagious. Cholera can be transferred person to person by infected fecal matter entering a mouth or by water or food contaminated with Vibrio cholerae bacteria. The organisms can survive well in salty waters and can contaminate humans and other organisms that contact or swim in the water.
What is the incubation period for cholera?
The time period from exposure to the bacteria until the development of symptoms (incubation period) is relatively short for cholera, varying from about 12 hours to five days. Most people develop symptoms of watery diarrhea (termed "rice-water stools") with frequent stooling. More severe symptoms include frequent vomiting, rapid heart rate, dry mucous membranes, muscle cramps, restlessness, thirst, loss of skin elasticity, and low blood pressure. As symptoms progress, some patients can develop kidney failure and/or hypovolemic shock. Detection of cholera is simple with testing of stool samples with a special dipstick. Examination of the watery diarrhea for characteristic Vibrio bacteria (comma-shaped bacteria) by microscopy can be helpful. Subsequent culture of the organisms from stool samples will confirm preliminary dipstick and microscopic identification.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/15/2016