Cholera is a bacterial infection. It is caused by drinking water contaminated with vibrio cholerae bacteria, or by eating food that has been in contact with contaminated water.
The most common symptoms of cholera are extensive:
Left untreated the combination of diarrhoea and vomiting can cause a person to quickly become dehydrated (lack of fluids inside their body) and go into shock (experience a sudden massive drop in blood pressure). In severe cases these conditions can be fatal.
Both result in heart or lung failure and are fatal.
Cases of cholera are now largely confined to regions of the world with poor sanitation and water hygiene, such as:
Around three-quarters of people who are exposed to cholera bacteria do not develop any symptoms. However, these people can contaminate water by passing stools (faeces) that contain bacteria into water, or pass on the disease through poor food hygiene.
If you are travelling to parts of the world known to be affected by cholera, following some basic precautions should prevent you from contracting a cholera infection:
There is a vaccine (given as a drink) that protects against cholera. It is estimated to be 85% effective. Contact your travel clinician to find out whether it is necessary for your travels.