Cholera - Fact Sheet
What is cholera?
Cholera is an illness caused by a bacterium called Vibrio cholerae. This bacterium affects the intestinal tract. Only a few cases are recognized in the United States each year.
Where are V. cholerae bacteria found?
V. cholerae can be found in people. The bacterium may also live in the environment in brackish (containing some salt) rivers and coastal waters. Shellfish eaten raw have been a source of cholera.
How do these bacteria spread?
Cholera bacteria are passed in stool and are spread by consuming contaminated food or water.
Who gets cholera?
Cholera is a rare disease in the United States. People traveling to foreign countries where outbreaks are occurring and people who consume raw or undercooked seafood from warm coastal waters subject to sewage contamination are at greatest risk.
What are the symptoms of cholera?
People infected with V. cholerae may experience mild to severe watery diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration. In severe cases, shock and organ failure can occur. Without treatment, death can occur in more than 50% of cases within a few hours.
How soon do symptoms appear?
The symptoms generally appear 2 – 3 days after exposure (range 6 hours - 5 days).
How long can an infected person carry cholera?
Usually up to a few days after recovery; however, some people may carry it for several months.
What is the treatment for cholera?
Since severe diarrhea may cause rapid dehydration, replacement of fluids is critical. Antibiotics, such as tetracycline, are also used to shorten the duration of diarrhea and the shedding of cholera in stool. A vaccine is available and is sometimes recommended for travelers to certain foreign countries where cholera is occurring. However, the vaccine offers only partial protection (50%) for a short duration (2 to 6 months).
How can cholera be prevented?
The single most important preventive measure is to avoid consuming foods or water in foreign countries where cholera occurs, unless they are known to be safe or have been properly treated. All travelers to areas where cholera has occurred should observe the following recommendations:
- Drink only water that you have boiled or treated with chlorine or iodine. Other safe beverages include tea and coffee made with boiled water and carbonated, bottled beverages with no ice.
- Eat only foods that have been thoroughly cooked and are still hot, or fruit that you have peeled yourself.
- Avoid undercooked or raw fish or shellfish, including ceviche (a cold dish made with raw fish).
- Make sure all vegetables are cooked; avoid salads.
- Avoid foods and beverages from street vendors.
- Do not bring perishable seafood back to the United States.
This fact sheet is for informational purposes only. It should not be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a health care provider. If you think that you may have this infection, or have questions about the disease described above, you should consult your health care provider.
For additional information on this disease, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
To contact the Epidemiology and Emerging Infections Program, please call 860-509-7994.