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Cholera is a bacterial infection. It affects the bowels. It can lead to a quick loss of body fluids. If severe, it can be fatal.


Certain bacteria cause cholera. They grow and release a toxin in the small bowel. People get it from drinking water or eating food that had contact with infected human stool.

Risk Factors

Cholera is common in countries that lack proper sewage treatment. The risk is higher in those who:

  • Live or travel to places where cholera is common
  • Are exposed to the bacteria in water or seafood
  • Have a weak immune system
  • Are in blood group O


Some people do not have symptoms. Those who do may have:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lots of watery diarrhea
  • Muscle cramps
  • Thirst


The doctor will ask about your symptoms, and health and travel history. A physical exam will be done. Stool tests will confirm a diagnosis.


The goal of treatment is to treat the infection and replace lost fluids. Antibiotics will fight the infection. Fluids will be given by IV or by mouth.


Adults aged 18 to 64 years can get a vaccine. This can be given before traveling to places where cholera is common.

When traveling to these places:

  • Drink and use safe water—bottled or boiled water.
  • Wash hands often.
  • Eat only well-cooked foods that are served hot.
  • Peel fruits and vegetables.
  • Talk to the doctor about antibiotics.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

World Health Organization


Alberta Health Services

Public Health Agency of Canada


Cholera. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/cholera/general/index.html. Accessed February 5, 2021.

Cholera. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/cholera . Accessed February 5, 2021.

Cholera. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/gram-negative-bacilli/cholera. Accessed February 5, 2021.

Cholera. World Health Organization website. Available at: http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cholera. Accessed February 5, 2021.

Last reviewed September 2020 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 2/5/2021