Sources of Infection & Risk Factors
Cholera is an acute intestinal infection causing profuse watery diarrhea, vomiting, circulatory collapse and shock. Many infections are associated with milder diarrhea or have no symptoms at all. If left untreated, 25-50% of severe cholera cases can be fatal.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who gets cholera?
A person can get cholera by drinking water or eating food contaminated with the cholera bacterium. Large epidemics are often related to fecal contamination of water supplies or street vended foods. The disease is occasionally spread through eating raw or undercooked shellfish that are naturally contaminated.
About Vibrio cholerae O1 or O139
Cholera is caused by infection with toxigenic Vibrio cholerae serogroups O1 or O139.
Many other serogroups of Vibrio cholerae, with or without the cholera toxin gene, can cause a cholera-like illness, as can non-toxigenic strains of the O1 and O139 serogroups.
Cholera in the U.S.
Global Cholera Epidemics
Global Cholera Challenges
Large population migrations into urban centers in developing countries are straining existing water and sanitation infrastructure and increasing disease risk. Epidemics are a marker for poverty and lack of basic sanitation. Multiple routes exist for spreading cholera meaning that successful prevention may require different measures in different areas.
Natural infection and currently available vaccines offer incomplete protection of relatively short duration; no multivalent vaccines are available for O139 infections.
Simple rehydration treatment saves lives, but logistics of delivery in remote areas remains difficult during epidemic periods. Accompanying antibiotic treatment is helpful but may be difficult because of growing antimicrobial resistance. Natural reservoirs for the bacterium in warm coastal waters make eradication very unlikely.
- WHO. Cholera 2011. [PDF - 16 pages] Wkly Epidemiol Rec. 2012;87: 289–304.