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What is cholera and what are the symptoms?

Cholera is an illness caused by bacteria that can result in watery diarrhoea and vomiting.1 In healthy people, cholera can be asymptomatic or mild with diarrhoea being the only symptom. In severe cases however, the illness has a sudden onset with watery diarrhoea, nausea (feeling sick) and vomiting. If left untreated, this can lead to severe dehydration and can potentially lead to death within hours.1,2

Who is at risk?

The overall risk of cholera for most travellers is extremely low. While cholera can be found worldwide, certain regions are more affected than others. The disease is more common in areas with poor sanitation, poverty and limited access to clean drinking water, such as parts of Africa, India and Southeast Asia. Certain activities can increase your risk of infection in areas where the disease is endemic, such as drinking unclean water and eating poorly cooked seafood. Relief workers in disaster or refugee areas are also at risk.1,2

How is it spread and how can it be treated?

Cholera is normally spread through water that has been contaminated with faeces, but can also be spread through food. If you become infected with cholera, you will need antibiotic therapy, as well as treatment to replace any lost fluids.2

How can it be prevented?

A vaccine is available for people who are considered to be at an increased risk of cholera, including:1,2

  • Aid workers who are visiting areas where cholera is likely
  • Travellers visiting areas where there has been an outbreak of cholera, where they will have limited access to clean water and medicine

It is important to practice good personal hygiene while travelling, including washing your hands before eating and after visiting the bathroom.1,2

Where can I get further information?

Make sure you contact your GP or travel health practitioner in plenty of time before you travel to discuss the ways you can help to keep yourself healthy whilst away. You should try and contact them at least 4–6 weeks before your trip.

After your trip, you should contact your GP if you develop a fever or notice any other unusual symptoms.

  1. Travel Health Pro. Cholera. Available at: Accessed August 2017.
  2. Fit For Travel. Cholera. Available at: Accessed August 2017.

Date of preparation: November 2017