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Bureau of Disease Control


What Is Cholera?

Cholera is caused by infection with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.  The symptoms of cholera are often mild or even no symptoms but it can be severe. Approximately one in 20 (5%) infected persons will have severe disease with large amounts of watery diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps. People with severe illness are at risk for dehydration, shock and even death if they do not get medical treatment quickly.

How many people get cholera?

Each year, cholera causes an estimated 3-5 million illnesses and over 100,000 deaths around the world. Most cholera cases occur in places with inadequate water treatment, poor sanitation, and inadequate hygiene. In the United States most cases of cholera occur in people who have travelled to the developing world.

How is cholera spread?

A person can get cholera by drinking water or eating food contaminated with the cholera bacterium. In an outbreak, the source of contamination is usually the feces of an infected person in water and/or food. Shellfish eaten raw have also been a source of cholera. The disease can spread rapidly in areas with inadequate treatment of sewage and drinking water. Usually casual contact with an infected person is not a risk for becoming ill. 

What steps can I take to reduce my risk?

The risk for getting cholera is very low when simple precautions are used.  All people in areas where cholera is occurring or has occurred should observe the following recommendations:

  • Use only bottled, boiled, or chemically treated water for drinking, washing dishes, brushing teeth, making ice cubes and in food preparation.
  • Use only bottled or canned carbonated beverages with a seal that has not been broken.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and clean water.
  • If no water and soap are available, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner (with at least 60% alcohol).
  • Eat foods that are packaged or that are freshly cooked and served hot.
  • Do not eat raw and undercooked meats/seafood or unpeeled fruits and vegetables.
  • Dispose of feces appropriately to prevent contamination of water and food sources.

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