Information for Public Health & Medical Professionals
CDC expert Dr. Karen Wong discusses the risk for cholera in travelers, how it can be prevented, and use of the new vaccine.
Listed below are answers to common questions for public health and medical professionals addressing cholera diagnosis, testing, treatment, patient care, and prevention in outbreak and other settings. You will also find publications and patient education materials relevant to cholera.
Cholera is an acute, diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. An estimated 3-5 million cases and over 100,000 deaths occur each year around the world. The infection is often mild or without symptoms, but can sometimes be severe. Approximately one in 10 (5-10%) infected persons will have severe disease characterized by profuse watery diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps. In these people, rapid loss of body fluids leads to dehydration and shock. Without treatment, death can occur within hours.
You should suspect cholera in any patient presenting with severe watery diarrhea and vomiting with severe dehydration who may have recently traveled to a cholera-endemic area. The patient may complain of painful cramping in the legs due to electrolyte disturbances. Clinical suspicion should be increased, and milder diarrheal illnesses are more suspect, in persons returning from cholera-endemic areas, or in persons with a recent history of ingestion of raw seafood from a cholera-endemic area. The incubation period of cholera is between two hours and five days.
The diagnosis is made by culturing the organism from the stool. Notify your lab that you are considering cholera so that they will culture on TCBS agar. However, you should not wait for a positive culture before starting aggressive treatment. More Information on diagnosis and testing. and laboratory testing.
The severe cholera patient may have lost more than 10% of body weight and needs swift volume replacement. Cholera deaths can be prevented by the aggressive administration of fluids. This will correct the dehydration, shock, and acidosis. Antibiotic treatment is less important, but will decrease the duration of illness. More information on treatment.
This depends on the patient’s condition. Patients with mild to moderate dehydration can be given an appropriate oral rehydration salt solution such as Rehydralyte™ or WHO Formula Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS). Only solutions that contain the proper balance of electrolytes should be given.
Patients with severe dehydration or those with intractable vomiting need intravenous therapy with Ringer’s lactate solution. Intravenous fluid should be given quickly to restore the circulation, followed by oral fluids as soon as possible. More information on rehydration therapy.
Fluid therapy needs to be individualized. Severely dehydrated adults may require several liters of fluid immediately to restore an adequate circulating volume. Base your therapy on the degree of dehydration. Remember that cholera patients will have significant on-going fluid losses that also need to be measured and replaced. More information on rehydration therapy.
Haiti 2010 Outbreak-specific Guidance for Antibiotic Treatment (Example)
- Adult (non-pregnant): 300 mg in a single dose
- Child: 2-4 mg/kg in a single dose
- Adult: 1g in a single dose
- Child: 20 mg/kg in a single dose
- Adult (non-pregnant): 500 mg, 4 times/day for 3 days
- Child: 12.5 mg per kg,4 times/day for 3 days
- Adult: 500 mg, 4 times/day for 3 days
- Child: 12 mg/kg, 4 times/day for 3 days
Clinical management guidelines including antibiotic treatment are also posted on the Cholera Treatment page.
All suspected or confirmed cases of cholera should be reported to your county or state health department immediately. Do not swim or enter bodies of water like lakes or rivers while ill with diarrhea or for 2 weeks after resolution of symptoms.
CDC Clinical Resources
- Travelers’ Health Yellow Book Chapter 2 – Traveler’s Diarrhea (Information for Health Care Providers)
- Medscape Video: When to Consider Cholera – CDC Expert Dr. Robert Quick discusses when to consider cholera
- Johns Hopkins University. Stop Cholera.
CDC Patient Education Materials
- General Information on Cholera
- Travelers’ Health Yellow Book Chapter 7 – Traveling Safely with Infants and Children
- Travelers Health Yellow Book Chapter 2 – Water Disinfection for Travelers
- Prevention & Control
- CDC. Travelers’ Health Yellow Book Chapter 3 – Infectious Diseases Related to Travel: Cholera
- Swerdlow DL and Ries AA. Cholera in the Americas: Guidelines for the Clinician. JAMA. 1992;267:1495-9.
Also visit the main Publications, Data, & Statistics page.
- Page last reviewed: May 17, 2017
- Page last updated: May 17, 2017
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