With more than 150,000 cases reported each year, understanding cholera is vital for travel safety

Cholera may not be found in the UK, but for travellers it is still a concern. This infectious disease can cause severe watery diarrhoea and dehydration, which can be fatal if left untreated. Cholera is most commonly found in parts of the world where poor sanitation, crowding and famine are more common. Higher risk areas include parts of Africa, south Asia and Latin America.

If you are planning a trip to any area where cholera is still prevalent, it is important to understand as much as possible about the condition. By getting the facts, you can take the necessary precautions to stay safe and healthy when abroad.

What causes cholera?

Cholera is caused by Vibrio cholerae bacteria, normally found in food and water that has been contaminated with faeces from an infected person. Common sources of the bacteria include municipal water supplies and ice made from municipal water. It may also be found in vegetables grown with contaminated water, raw fish, seafood caught in contaminated waters or foods and drinks sold by street vendors.

When contaminated food or water is consumed, the bacteria releases a toxin in the intestines which results in severe diarrhoea. You are unlikely to catch cholera from casual contact with an infected person.

What are the symptoms of cholera?

Cholera symptoms can appear as soon as a few hours after infection. However, in other instances they may take as long as five days to appear. Sometimes symptoms are mild, while in other cases they can be extremely serious.

Around 1 in 20 infected people will experience severe watery diarrhoea accompanied by vomiting, and this can rapidly lead to dehydration. It’s important to bear in mind that even those with minimal or no symptoms can contribute to the spread of infection.

If left untreated, dehydration can lead to shock and even death within a matter of hours. Symptoms of the dehydration associated with cholera include:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Muscle cramps
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • Thirst
  • Dry mucous membranes, including the inside of the mouth, nose, throat and eyelids

How do you prevent and treat cholera?

If you plan to travel to an area where you are at risk of the cholera infection, it’s important to take certain precautions in order to stay safe. The first precaution you should take is to only use water which has been boiled, chemically disinfected, or which comes in a sealed bottle.

Be sure to use disinfected water not just for drinking, but also for preparing food and drinks, making ice, washing your face and hands, and washing fruits and vegetables. The most effective way to disinfect water is to boil it for at least one minute, or filter it and use a commercial chemical disinfectant.

You can also lower your risk of cholera by avoiding raw foods, including unpeeled fruits and vegetables, raw or undercooked meat and fish, and unpasteurized milk and milk products.

If you suspect that you may have become infected, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Rehydration is key, and treatment will often consist of oral or intravenous solutions to replace lost fluids.

Before you travel, make sure you improve your chances of preventing cholera by getting fully vaccinated. Cholera vaccinations are available from Express Travel Clinic.

If you are planning to travel further afield, make sure you stay safe and healthy by getting fully vaccinated. Book with Express Travel Clinic or simply pay us a visit for a walk-in appointment.