Cholera - Symptoms, Risk factors and Treatment

Cholera is an infectious disease represented by acute severe watery diarrhea, which can be fatal if left untreated.

What causes cholera?

Cholera is a bacterial disease caused by the bacteria vibrio cholera. It is transmitted from person to person through the ingestion of contaminated food or water. Some people may serve as symptomless carriers of cholera, meaning that they can pass the bacteria in their feces that can contaminate water sources. Vibrio cholerae can be found in different food and water sources, such as:

  • Public water supplies

  • Public wells

  • Undercooked or raw seafood

  • Ice made from contaminated water

  • Undercooked or raw vegetables

What does vibrio cholera do inside the body?

Once a person ingests food or water contaminated by Vibrio cholerae, it enters the wall of the intestine and releases a toxin. This toxin causes the intestinal cells to secrete water, resulting in severe watery diarrhea (secretory diarrhea).

Symptoms of cholera:

Diarrhea: Diarrhea is the chief symptom of cholera infection. It starts suddenly (acute diarrhea) and can result in severe dehydration within hours. The patient passes watery stools, which resemble water in which rice has been rinsed, therefore the stools of cholera diarrhea are termed as rice-water stools. 

Symptoms other than diarrhea include:

Nausea and vomiting

Symptoms of dehydration, such as:

  • Lethargy

  • Sunken eyes

  • Cold skin

  • Dry mouth

  • Wrinkling of hands and feet

  • Deep and labored breathing

  • Muscle cramps

  • Loss of consciousness

Treatment of cholera:

Cholera needs to be treated urgently. If left untreated, death can ensue due to severe water losses. The treatment of cholera usually includes:

Fluid replacement: The primary goal of treating a cholera patient is to replace the fluid loss that has occurred by diarrhea and vomiting. It can be done by mouth (oral rehydration therapy), or if the patient can’t take fluids by mouth, intravenous fluids (IV fluids) are administered to compensate for the fluid loss that occurred.

Electrolytes: Along with fluids, many electrolytes (salts) are also lost during diarrhea and vomiting. Also, when treating cholera by fluid replacement,  the potassium levels in the body can drop. To compensate for the electrolyte losses, the patient is given electrolytes and is advised to eat foods rich in potassium.

Antibiotics: Since cholera is a bacterial illness, antibiotics are administered to clear up the bacteria and resolve the infection.

Complications of cholera:

The complications of cholera include:

Severe dehydration and shock: Shock is when the patient’s blood pressure starts to drop. Since a lot of fluid is lost in cholera infection, it can result in shock (hypovolemic shock). This causes low amounts of blood to reach different organs and thereby resulting in severe organ damage and death.

Complications other than dehydration and shock include:

  • Hypoglycemia- low blood sugar levels

  • Hypokalemia- low blood potassium levels

  • Renal failure- severe damage to the kidneys

Prevention of cholera:

Cholera is a serious infection. With different strategies, this infection can be prevented such as:

Washing hands frequently: It is important to wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 15 seconds to get rid of different germs. Wash your hands properly especially after using the toilet.

Drinking safe water: Drink water from sources you can trust are clean. Try drinking bottled or boiled water. Avoid drinking or consuming ice from street vendors. Use ice only if you have prepared it yourself with safe water. 

Cooking food properly: Vibrio cholerae can exist in seafood and vegetables if they are grown with contaminated water. To kill the bacteria properly, it is essential to cook seafood and vegetables thoroughly. Avoid raw vegetables or undercooked seafood like sushi.

Cholera vaccine: There are different vaccines available to prevent cholera. It is recommended to receive a cholera vaccine if you are traveling to areas where cholera is prevalent.


Cholera is a serious condition, which may result in death within hours if left untreated. With good hygiene and drinking safe water, the infection can be prevented. With proper awareness and striving for the provision of safe drinking water to everyone, we can hope to eradicate this deadly disease totally from the world!

Doctors For Cholera

Dr. Abad Ahmed Khan

General Physician

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Dr. Shah Nawaz Hassan

General Physician

17 Years

Dr. Zia Ur Rehman Siddiqui

General Physician

15 Years

Dr. Jamal Zafar

General Physician

11 Years

Dr. A. Fatah Sheik

General Physician

9 Years

Dr. Asif Imran

General Physician

9 Years

Dr. Ishrah Awan

General Physician

8 Years

Dr. Anum Daud

General Physician

11 Years

Doctors for Cholera in Different Cities