What is cholera?


Know the basics

What is cholera?

Cholera is a serious bacterial disease that usually causes severe diarrhea and dehydration, and may lead to death in case not being treated early.

How common is cholera?

Cholera is extremely common in places with poor sanitation, crowding, war, and famine. Common locations include parts of Africa, south Asia, and Latin America. It can affect patients at any age, although it is more dangerous when happening to children. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of cholera?

Most people exposed to the cholera bacterium (Vibrio cholerae) do not become ill and never know that they have been infected. Yet because they shed cholera bacteria in their stool from 7 to 14 days, they can still infect others through contaminated water. Most symptomatic cases of cholera cause mild or moderate diarrhea that are often hard to distinguish from diarrhea caused by other problems.

Only about 1 out of 10 infected people develops the typical signs and symptoms of cholera, usually within a few days of infection.

Symptoms of cholera infection may include:

  • Diarrhea;
  • Nausea and vomiting;
  • Dehydration;
  • Electrolyte imbalance: characterized by muscle cramps, shock.If untreated, severe hypovolemic shock can cause death in a matter of minutes.
  • Altered state of consciousness;
  • Seizures;
  • Coma;

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

The risk of cholera is slight in industrialized nations, and even in endemic areas you are not likely to become infected if you follow food safety recommendations. Still, sporadic cases of cholera occur throughout the world. If you develop severe diarrhea after visiting an area with active cholera, please see your doctor as soon as possible.

If you have diarrhea, especially severe diarrhea, or you think that you may have been exposed to cholera, remember to seek treatment right away. Severe dehydration is a medical emergency that requires immediate care regardless of the cause.

Know the causes

What causes cholera?

A bacterium called Vibrio cholerae causes cholera infection. However, the deadly effects of disease are the result of a potent toxin called CTX (cholera toxin) that the bacteria produce in the small intestine. CTX binds to the intestinal walls, where it interferes with the normal flow of sodium and chloride. This causes the body to secrete enormous amounts of water, leading to diarrhea and a rapid loss of fluids and salts (electrolytes).

Contaminated water supplies are the main source of cholera infection, although raw shellfish, uncooked fruits and vegetables, and other foods also can harbor V. cholerae.

Cholera bacteria have two distinct life cycles: one in the environment and one in humans.

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for cholera?

There are many risk factors for cholera, such as:

  • Poor sanitary conditions;
  • Such conditions are common to refugee camps, impoverished countries, and areas devastated by famine, war or natural disasters.
  • Reduced or nonexistent stomach acid (hypochlorhydria or achlorhydria).
  • Household exposure;
  • Type O blood;
  • Raw or undercooked shellfish;

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is cholera diagnosed?

Although signs and symptoms of severe cholera may be unmistakable in endemic areas, the only way to confirm a diagnosis is to identify the bacteria in a stool sample.

Rapid cholera dipstick tests are now available, enabling health care providers in remote areas to confirm diagnosis of cholera earlier. Quicker confirmation helps to decrease death rates at the start of cholera outbreaks and leads to earlier public health interventions for outbreak control.

How is cholera treated?

Cholera requires immediate treatment because the disease can cause death within hours.

  • Rehydrationthe goal is to replace lost fluids and electrolytes by using a simple rehydration solution, oral rehydration salts (ORS). The ORS solution is available as a powder that can be reconstituted in boiled or bottled water. Without rehydration, approximately half the people with cholera die. With treatment, the number of fatalities drops to less than 1 percent.
  • Intravenous fluidsduring a cholera epidemic, most people can be helped by oral rehydration alone, but severely dehydrated people may also need intravenous fluids.
  • Antibioticswhile antibiotics are not a necessary part of cholera treatment, some of these drugs may reduce both the amount and duration of cholera-related diarrhea. A single dose of doxycycline (Monodox, Oracea, Vibramycin) or azithromycin (Zithromax, Zmax) may be effective.
  • Zinc supplementsresearch has shown that zinc may decrease and shorten the duration of diarrhea in children with cholera.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage cholera?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with cholera:

  • Wash hands with soap and water frequently,especially after using the toilet and before handling food. Rub soapy, wet hands together for at least 15 seconds before rinsing. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Drink only safe water, including bottled water, water you have boiled or disinfected yourself. Use bottled water even to brush your teeth. Hot beverages are generally safe, as are canned or bottled drinks, but wipe the outside before you open them.
  • Eat food that is completely cooked, hot and avoid street vendor food, if possible. If you do buy a meal from a street vendor, make sure it is cooked in your presence and served hot.
  • Avoid sushi,as well as raw or improperly cooked fish and seafood of any kind.
  • Stick to fruits and vegetables that you can peel yourself, such as bananas, oranges and avocados. Stay away from salads and fruits that cannot be peeled, such as grapes and berries.
  • Be wary of dairy foods,including ice cream which is often contaminated, and unpasteurized milk.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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