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Cholera

Pronounced: KOL-eh-ra

Definition

Cholera is an infectious disease that affects the intestinal tract.

Causes

Cholera is caused by a specific bacteria. This bacterium releases a toxin that causes rapid loss of fluids from the small intestines. Cholera is spread by ingesting food or water contaminated by fecal waste. It is common in countries that lack proper sewage disposal.

Small Intestines

Small intestines

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Risk Factors

Factors that increase your risk of getting cholera include:

  • Age: Children 2-5 years of age are most affected
  • Eating contaminated food or fluids
  • Eating raw or undercooked shellfish
  • Living or traveling in areas where cholera is present
  • Having blood group O
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Having low levels of stomach acid
Symptoms

Symptoms of cholera begin quickly and can be severe. They include:

  • Sudden onset of painless, watery diarrhea without blood or pus
  • Thirst
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle cramps

The severity of symptoms ranges from mild, short-lived diarrhea to shock and death due to extreme fluid loss. Most symptoms occur one to three days after exposure.

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. It is important to tell your doctor about any recent travel to areas where cholera is common. If cholera is suspected, stool and blood samples will be tested.

Treatment
Fluid Replacement

The first priority in treating cholera is to replace fluids and electrolytes lost through diarrhea . In severe cases, uncorrected dehydration can be fatal. Hydration solutions can be given orally or through an IV.

Antibiotics

Antibiotic medications may help shorten the course of the disease in severe cases. They may also be given to the people you live with to prevent them from becoming ill.

Prevention
Careful Eating Habits

You can prevent cholera by avoiding contaminated food and fluids in areas where cholera occurs. Currently, these areas include parts of these countries and continents:

  • Asia
  • Africa
  • India
  • South America
  • Central America

When traveling in these areas, you are advised to:

  • Drink only bottled or boiled water
  • Eat only well-cooked foods that are served hot
  • Avoid all raw or undercooked shellfish
  • Avoid salads
  • Avoid raw vegetables that you have not peeled yourself
  • Carry oral rehydration solution (ORS) and know how to use it if you develop severe diarrhea

RESOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
http://www.cdc.gov

World Health Organization
http://www.who.int/en

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

Public Health Agency of Canada
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

References:

Cholera. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/cholera/index.html . Updated July 29, 2013. Accessed August 7, 2013.

Cholera. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us . Updated February 15, 2013. Accessed August 7, 2013.

Farmer P, Almazor CP, et al. Meeting cholera's challenge to Haiti and the world: a joint statement on cholera prevention and care. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2011;5(5):e1145.

Harris JB, Khan AI, et al. Blood group, immunity, and risk of infection with vibrio cholerae in an area of endemity. Infection and Immunity. 2005;73:7422-7427.

Ryan ET. The cholera pandemic, still with us after half a century: time to rethink. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2011;5(1):e1003.

Sack DA, Sack RB, et al. Cholera. Lancet. 2004;363:223-233.

World Health Organization, Cholera: 2010. 2011 Weekly Epidemiological Record. Jul 29;86(31):325-39. Available at http://www.who.int/wer/2011/wer8631.pdf . Accessed August 7, 2013.



Last reviewed August 2013 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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