Cholera

Cholera is a stomach infection caused by eating food or water infected with a toxin-releasing bacteria.1

Cholera infection most commonly occurs from drinking water containing the bacteria which is either present naturally or through contamination with human waste (faeces) from infected people.1

The other common way of catching cholera is eating contaminated fish or shellfish, vegetables or leftover grains that have been poorly reheated.1   Cholera rarely spreads from person to person.1

An easy way to remember what to avoid is: If you can’t boil it, cook it or peel it — forget it.4 

Cholera outbreaks most commonly occur in the developing countries of Asia, Africa, the Middle East3 South and Central America, and parts of the Caribbean, particularly Haiti.1 

You should talk to your doctor or travel medicine specialist about your vaccination options 6–8 weeks before your travel5 because some vaccination courses take this long to complete.

Cholera FAQs

  • Cholera - What is it?

    Cholera is a stomach infection caused by eating food or water infected with a toxin-releasing bacteria.1

    Cholera infection occurs where hygiene and the quality of drinking water is poor. Cholera outbreaks most commonly occur in the developing countries of Asia, Africa, the Middle East3 South and Central America, and parts of the Caribbean, particularly Haiti.1  The risk of cholera infection is generally very low — even in countries where cholera is present.2  This is because cholera bacteria can't survive in an acid environment, and ordinary stomach acid often serves as a first-line defence against infection.  However, people with low levels of stomach acid such as children, older adults and people who take medicines to control the acid in their stomach lack this protection and are therefore at a higher risk of infection.3

  • Cholera – How is it spread?

    Cholera infection most commonly occurs from drinking water containing the bacteria which is either present naturally or through contamination with human waste (faeces) from infected people.1

    The other common way of catching cholera is eating contaminated fish or shellfish, vegetables or leftover grains that have been poorly reheated.1   Cholera rarely spreads from person to person.1

  • Cholera - What are the symptoms?

    Most people infected with cholera either experience mild diarrhoea or don’t have any symptoms.1,2  The minority who experience severe disease can have a sudden onset of vomiting and watery diarrhoea. This can lead to fluid and electrolyte loss, causing severe dehydration and potentially death.1,2  This is not a full list of symptoms that can occur following cholera infection. If you feel unwell while travelling or when you return home, make sure you see a doctor as soon as possible.4

  • Cholera - How is it prevented?

    Travellers who go to areas where cholera is present should take care to avoid potentially contaminated food and water; some recommendations include:2-4

    • eating food that is still hot when it is served
    • avoiding food kept at room temperature for several hours
    • avoiding uncooked food, including seafood, salads and fruit that cannot be peeled
    • thoroughly boiling or cooking food and hot drinks (tea, coffee, cocoa)
    • wine, beer, fizzy drinks, bottled water or packaged fruit juices are usually safe to drink
    • only using bottled water (the seal must be intact) to drink and brush teeth
    • not putting ice in drinks unless you know it’s from safe water
    • boil milk before you drink it
    • ice cream from unreliable sources is frequently contaminated and can cause illness.
      • be sure that meals bought from street vendors are thoroughly cooked in your presence and do not contain any uncooked foods

    An easy way to remember what to avoid is: If you can’t boil it, cook it or peel it — forget it.4  It is also advised that travellers carry rehydration salts to help treat severe diarrhoea and dehydration.2

    You should talk to your doctor or travel medicine specialist about your vaccination options 6–8 weeks before your travel5 because some vaccination courses take this long to complete.

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