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What is Cholera?

By J.Gunsch
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Cholera is a serious infectious disease caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae, which affects the intestinal system of the body. An infected person experiences severe vomiting, explosive diarrhea, and severe dehydration. Without immediate medical treatment, this illness may result in death within four to 12 hours after symptoms begin. Due to a large loss of body fluids, the disease is gruesome in the way that it leaves survivors in their physical appearance, as well as in the biological toll it takes on the body.

The bacteria that causes cholera is very contagious. It is spread by the unintentional consumption of infected feces that contaminate food and water, and it can also be spread through human to human contact. Some people have also been infected with it by eating raw or undercooked shellfish.

The disease is easily treated with fluids and antibiotics. When antibiotics are unavailable, which is commonly the case in areas that are plagued by the illness, a simple mixture of water and glucose for rehydration is life saving. It usually resolves itself after a period of time; the danger is the severe dehydration that quickly causes death.

Similar to the bubonic plague that has showed its face time and again, cholera is suspected to be an ancient disease. It has unquestionably reoccurred in seven pandemics since 1817, including in Europe and the United States. The most recent pandemic began in Asia in 1961 and continues to the present day in Africa.

In developing countries, cholera is prevalent in areas that do not enjoy sanitary living conditions because of poverty and a lack of resources. In pandemic regions, even sanitary conditions may not prevent further outbreak. Many people do not receive information on how the disease is spread, fear seeking medical help, or simply do not have access to any kind of treatment.

Cholera is not common in developed countries due to the availability of medical treatment, regulated heath standards, clean water, and effective sewage systems. Cases in developed countries are often the result of raw shellfish or people who have contracted the illness while traveling. Those traveling to countries that have epidemics should take careful precautions to prevent infection.

Precautions for travelers include boiling water before drinking or washing, or treating it with chlorine or iodine. Frequent hand washing with clean water, especially after using the toilet, is imperative. Travelers are also advised to ensure their food is fully cooked and hot, peeling their own fruit, and avoiding raw vegetables, including salads. Raw and undercooked shellfish should also be avoided.

Cholera is a disease that causes social stigmas and stereotypes in epidemic areas. Indigenous peoples who commonly fall victim to it fear the status of social outcast more than the disease itself. Throughout history, communities that have had outbreaks are marked as diseased and dirty even after they are no longer at risk for spreading the bacteria.

TheHealthBoard is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon324774 — On Mar 12, 2013

What do you mean "human to human contact"?

By anon324772 — On Mar 12, 2013

I think I may be moving to Haiti which has, according to my doctor, a lot of cases of cholera. Is there any medical vaccine to help prevent it for long periods of time?

By anon286389 — On Aug 20, 2012

A very important part of overseas travel, especially to developing nations, is to drink only bottled or filtered water.

By anon160027 — On Mar 14, 2011

this is really interesting. can you get cholera in England? just wondering.

By anon133752 — On Dec 12, 2010

How old is cholera? When were the first cases in history?

By Josh Burns — On Nov 18, 2010

"Diarrhea," or "Diarrhea" can be spelled either way. Much in the same way the word Color can be spelled Color and still remain proper.

Cholera can be "easy" to get following the right circumstances. Human to human contact, eating from tainted food (such as someone not washing their hands and then touching food).

In first world countries, cholera is not a big concern. Remember why your mom always told you to wash your hands before eating? You'll never know how many lives that simple mentality has saved.

By anon125146 — On Nov 08, 2010

Where did this virus come from originally and no one has ever defined. Is it just glucose for the cholera to be stopped or is there any medicine that will permanently cure cholera? debee

By anon123646 — On Nov 03, 2010

Surely people have some kind of shiny metal or aluminum foil lying around and metal or glass containers. Why couldn't makeshift solar stoves be rigged up to boil contaminated water for drinking? Why aren't medical assistance groups there to help promote this?

By anon122642 — On Oct 28, 2010

wow thanks for whoever posted this. i have to do a research about this for school!

By anon122295 — On Oct 27, 2010

Yes. I was actually just speaking to my colleague about his and he shared that he happened to be in the military stationed in SE Asia in the 60s when there was a cholera outbreak. He said that although the soldiers were given the vaccine, some of them contracted cholera anyway.

By anon62092 — On Jan 24, 2010

Cholera is in the united states. Our own President James Knox Polk was a victim of this disease.

By anon61105 — On Jan 18, 2010

Can cholera affect your organs?

By anon58525 — On Jan 02, 2010

is cholera easy to get?

By anon58524 — On Jan 02, 2010

is cholera in the u.s.?

By anon52043 — On Nov 11, 2009

diarrhea is spelled wrong.

By anon8693 — On Feb 19, 2008

this page is so interesting for people

By anon2557 — On Jul 16, 2007

is there any vaccine to prevent cholera?

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