Navigate Up

Full Library - A-Z Index


Print This Page

Cholera

Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that causes a large amount of watery diarrhea.

Causes

Cholera is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. These bacteria release a toxin that causes an increased amount of water to be released from cells that line the intestines. The increase in water produces severe diarrhea.

People get the infection from eating or drinking food or water containing the cholera germ. Living in or traveling to areas where there is cholera raises the risk of getting it.

Cholera occurs in places with a lack of water treatment or sewage treatment, crowding, war, and famine. Common locations for cholera include:

  • Africa
  • Asia
  • India
  • Mexico
  • South and Central America

Symptoms

Note: Symptoms can vary from mild to severe.

Exams and Tests

Tests that may be done include:

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to replace fluid and salts that are lost through diarrhea. Diarrhea and fluid loss can be fast and extreme. It can be hard to replace lost fluids.

Depending on your condition, you may be given fluids by mouth or through a vein (intravenous , or IV). Antibiotics may shorten the time you feel ill.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a solution that helps restore fluids. It is cheaper and easier to use than the typical IV fluid. This solution is now being used around the world.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Severe dehydration can cause death. Most people will make a full recovery when they are given enough fluids.

Possible Complications

  • Severe dehydration
  • Death

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you develop severe watery diarrhea. Also call if you have signs of dehydration, including:

  • Dry mouth
  • Dry skin
  • "Glassy" eyes
  • No tears
  • Rapid pulse
  • Reduced or no urine
  • Sunken eyes
  • Thirst
  • Unusual sleepiness or tiredness

Prevention

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend cholera vaccines for most travelers. (This vaccine is not available in the United States.)

Travelers should always be careful when eating food and drinking water, even if they are vaccinated.

When outbreaks of cholera occur, efforts should be made to establish clean water, food, and sanitation. Vaccination is not very effective in managing outbreaks.

References

DuPont HL. Approach to the patient with suspected enteric infection. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 291.

Giannella RA. Infectious enteritis and proctocolitis and bacterial food poisoning. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 107.

Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 142.

Updated: 5/12/2014

Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com