Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Cholera is an infection of the intestines caused bybacteria called Vibrio cholerae. This infectionresults in large amounts of diarrhea.

What is going on in the body?

A person can develop cholera by eating or drinkingfood or water that has been contaminated by the cholera germ.Cholera occurs in most parts of theworld. In the U.S., most cases are seen either in:

  • travelers from other countries
  • people who have eaten food imported from another country
  • In some southern states in the U.S., cholera can becaught by eating raw shellfish. Cholera can cause severedehydration,which may result in death if the person is not treated.

    What are the causes and risks of the infection?

    Cholera is caused by eating or drinking contaminatedfood or water that contains Vibrio choleraebacteria.

    Symptoms & Signs

    What are the signs and symptoms of the infection?

    Symptoms usually start 1 to 3 days after eating ordrinking contaminated food or water. Common symptoms include:

  • dehydration
  • muscle cramping
  • \

  • painless watery diarrhea,often in very large amounts
  • vomiting
  • weakness
  • Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the infection diagnosed?

    The diagnosis of cholera begins with a complete medicalhistory and physical examination. Sometimes, the doctor can seethe bacteria in a stool sample by using a microscope. In other cases, astool culture is needed. Stool culture involves putting a sampleof stool in a special container. This container has a solution init that allows the Vibrio cholerae bacteria togrow. If the organism grows, it can be identified, and thediagnosis can be made.

    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the infection?

    Thorough cooking of food can often prevent cholera.Boiling water or treating it with chlorine or iodine is anothergood way to prevent this infection. Cholera is common inunderdeveloped countries that lack clean water supplies. A personwho travels to this type of country should use care inthe food and water consumed.

    Good hygiene, especially when preparing food, can helpprevent the spread of infection through foods.

    What are the long-term effects of the infection?

    All the serious effects of cholera are due to thediarrhearelated to it. Diarrhea causes the body to shed large amounts of water and salt.A person can develop life-threatening salt imbalances.Severe dehydrationcan occur. And that can result in low blood pressureand kidney damage.

    In severe cases, shockand even death are possible. Death from cholera is very rare in theU.S. It is more common in countries where access to medical care andclean water is limited.

    What are the risks to others?

    Cholera can be spread from one person to another. Thisis more likely to occur if the infected person does not have goodpersonal hygiene. A person with diarrheafrom an infection should be extra careful about washing his orher hands.

    Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the infection?

    A person who has cholera needs to replace what is lost dueto the diarrhea. This includes both fluids and salts, also called electrolytes. Liquidsalt solutions can be used if the person is able to drink.Otherwise, fluids and salt can be given through an intravenous line,called an IV. An IV is a thin tube that is inserted through the skin and into aperson’s vein, usually in the hand or forearm. This is often the onlytreatment that is needed, as the diarrheagoes away in a few days.

    Antibiotics such as doxycycline and ciprofloxacin canbe used to treat cholera. Though antibiotics are not needed, theyare commonly used in the U.S. to shorten the length of time ittakes for symptoms to go away. They also help clear the bacteriafrom the bowel, which reduces the chance of spreading the diseaseto others.

    What are the side effects of the treatments?

    All antibiotics have possible side effects, includingallergic reactionsand stomach upset.

    What happens after treatment for the infection?

    In most cholera cases in the U.S., thediarrheagoes away and the person starts to feel better within a few days. Iftreatment is delayed, dehydrationcan cause complications. These include:

  • kidney damage
  • severe salt imbalances
  • shock
  • In these cases, the person is usually treated and monitored ina hospital for a short time.

    How is the infection monitored?

    Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported tothe doctor.

    Article type: xmedgeneral