An intestinal infection that causes profuse, watery diarrhoea
- Visiting or living in areas where the disease occurs is a risk factor
- Age, gender, and genetics are not significant factors
Cholera typically occurs in epidemics and has caused millions of deaths over the centuries. It is due to infection of the small intestine by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Usually associated with areas of poor sanitation, cholera can be spread through contaminated water or food.
The illness starts suddenly, 1–5 days after infection, with vomiting and profuse, watery diarrhoea. In some cases, fatal dehydration develops.
What might be done?
Cholera is usually diagnosed from the characteristic “rice water” appearance of the diarrhoea. To confirm the diagnosis, a faecal sample may be checked for the presence of the bacteria.
Urgent hospital treatment is needed to replace lost fluids and minerals, which are given orally or intravenously. Antibiotics may be given to reduce the risk of passing the infection to others. If treated without delay, most people make a complete recovery.
Scrupulous attention to personal hygiene and to food and water hygiene is the best protection against infection (see Travel health). An oral vaccine is available for travellers to areas where cholera is prevalent (see Travel health).
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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