Major cholera epidemics are commonly known to affect several regions of the world – Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Central Africa and the Pacific region. But it is in Iraq that the latest outbreak has infected almost 2,000 people.

For many people in the UK it may be a surprise to hear that cholera is still a problem faced around the world. Seen in this country as more of a historic disease – dating back to 1854 – it still has the potential to take lives around the world.

Cholera is a bacterial infection caused by drinking contaminated water, which mainly affects countries with poor sanitation practices. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there are between three and five million new cases of cholera every year.

There is currently a new outbreak of cholera in Iraq, which has infected more than 1,800 people so far. The country’s biggest outbreak since 2012 was first detected last month, just west of Baghdad, but has now spread to the northern Kurdistan region, and has already claimed six lives.

Haiti has also been badly affected by cholera in the last few years, seeing more than 700,000 people infected and nearly 10,000 people die from the disease between 2010 and 2015.

While there have been no cases of cholera originating in the UK for over 100 years, it is still vital to take precautions when travelling to an infected area. You can check which parts of the world are affected at Fit for travel, before you set off on your holiday.

If you are travelling to a risk area where there is a known outbreak of cholera, you can be vaccinated against the disease to reduce your chances of infection. The vaccination, which is given in the form of a drink, is 85 per cent effective and should be discussed with your pharmacist or GP before travelling.

Those infected with cholera will often show a number of symptoms, including:

  • Watery diarrhoea
  • Nausea (feeling sick)
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle cramps

However, it is also possible to pass on cholera without ever showing symptoms oneself. The bacteria that causes symptoms may be passed through faeces into a water supply or in food as a result of poor food hygiene.

If you return from a country that is affected by cholera and you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, you should contact your doctor immediately.

If you’re worried about the risks of cholera, or are looking for more information about vaccination and prevention methods, speak to your local travel clinician or GP.