What is cholera


Cholera is an extremely virulent disease. It affects both children and adults and can kill within hours.

About 75 percent of people infected with V cholerae do not develop any symptoms, although the bacteria are present in their faeces for seven to 14 days after infection and are shed back into the environment, potentially infecting other people.

Among people who develop symptoms, 80 percent have mild or moderate symptoms, while around 20 percent develop acute watery diarrhoea with severe dehydration. This can lead to death if untreated.

People with low immunity – such as malnourished children or people living with HIV – are at a greater risk of death if infected.


During the 19th century, cholera spread across the world from its original reservoir in the Ganges delta in India. Six subsequent pandemics killed millions of people across all continents. The current (seventh) pandemic started in South Asia in 1961, and reached Africa in 1971 and the Americas in 1991. Cholera is now endemic in many countries.


Cholera is an easily treatable disease. Up to 80 percent of people can be treated successfully through prompt administration of oral rehydration salts (WHO/UNICEF ORS standard sachet). Very severely dehydrated patients require administration of intravenous fluids. Such patients also require appropriate antibiotics to diminish the duration of diarrhoea, reduce the volume of rehydration fluids needed, and shorten the duration of V cholerae excretion. Mass administration of antibiotics is not recommended, as it has no effect on the spread of cholera and contributes to increasing antimicrobial resistance.

In order to ensure timely access to treatment, cholera treatment centres (CTCs) should be set up among the affected populations. With proper treatment, the case fatality rate should remain below one percent.

Outbreak response

Once an outbreak is detected, the usual intervention strategy is to reduce deaths by ensuring prompt access to treatment, and to control the spread of the disease by providing safe water, proper sanitation and health education for improved hygiene and safe food handling practices by the community. The provision of safe water and sanitation is a formidable challenge but remains the critical factor in reducing the impact of cholera.

Oral cholera vaccines

There are two types of safe and effective oral cholera vaccines currently available on the market. Both are whole-cell killed vaccines, one with a recombinant B-sub unit, the other without. Both have sustained protection of over 50 percent lasting for two years in endemic settings.

Travel and trade

Today, no country requires proof of cholera vaccination as a condition for entry. Past experience shows that quarantine measures and embargoes on the movement of people and goods are unnecessary. Isolated cases of cholera related to imported food have been associated with food in the possession of individual travellers. Consequently, import restrictions on food produced under good manufacturing practices, based on the sole fact that cholera is epidemic or endemic in a country, are not justified.

Countries neighbouring cholera-affected areas are encouraged to strengthen disease surveillance and national preparedness to rapidly detect and respond to outbreaks should cholera spread across borders. Further, information should be provided to travellers and the community on the potential risks and symptoms of cholera, together with precautions to avoid cholera, and when and where to report cases.

Courtesy the World Health Organisation


"What is cholera"

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