Cholera is a serious and sometimes life-threatening infection that mainly affects people in developing countries, where clean water and other sanitation measures are hard to come by. If you live in the United States, the chances of someone in your family getting cholera are slim.
But if you're planning to travel to a foreign country, especially one in the tropics, it's a good idea to know about cholera, and how to prevent it. Taking precautions with your food and water is the best way to avoid the illness.
Cholera is an intestinal infection caused the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. This bacterium produces a potent toxin that binds to the walls of the intestines. The body responds by secreting large amounts of water, causing watery diarrhea, vomiting, and subsequent dehydration as fluids and salts exit the body.
As a result, people with cholera can become dehydrated very quickly. Untreated severe dehydration can cause serious health problems like seizures and kidney failure. A person who doesn't get the proper medical treatment might even die.
The good news is, cholera is easy to treat if it's caught early. Kids who have mild to moderate cases usually get better within a week. Even people with severe cases of cholera recover fully in a week or so if they get medical care.
Cholera is mostly found in hot, tropical climates — in particular Asia, Africa, Latin America, India, and the Middle East. Although it's rare in the United States (the last outbreak was in 1911), cases can still occur. Travelers from countries where cholera is more common can bring it into the country, and some people in the U.S. have become sick from eating raw or undercooked shellfish from the Gulf of Mexico.
How It Spreads
People get cholera from eating or drinking food or water that's been contaminated with the feces (poop) of someone who has cholera.
This is one reason why cholera is rare in countries with good sanitation systems. Things like flush toilets, sewer systems, and water treatment facilities keep poop out of the water and food supply. Cholera epidemics also sometimes happen after a disaster (like an earthquake or flood) if people are living in tent cities or other places without running water or proper sanitation systems. Less commonly, the bacteria that cause cholera are found in brackish rivers and coastal waters.
Cholera is not contagious, so you can't catch it from direct contact with another person.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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