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What is cholera?

This serious bacterial infection is common in areas of Africa, India and Latin America.

Cholera is a bacterial infection of the intestines. It causes vomiting, leg cramps and severe, watery diarrhea. Symptoms range from mild to severe.

In severe cases, loss of fluids may cause dehydration, shock or death within hours.

Cholera is very rare in the United States and other industrialized countries. In less-developed countries, poor sanitation and water quality help the bacteria spread. It is common in Bangladesh, India, Yemen, the Philippines, Haiti and throughout Africa.

Contaminated food and drink most often transmit the bacteria from one person to the next. If you're planning foreign travel, check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to learn about diseases in the area. If you'll be in an area where cholera outbreaks have happened, follow these guidelines from the CDC and the World Health Organization:

  • Boil your drinking water or treat it with chlorine or iodine. Coffee and tea made with boiled water are safe. So are bottled and carbonated beverages, without ice.
  • Don't eat foods unless they've been cooked thoroughly and are still hot. Don't eat fruit that someone else has peeled.
  • Stay away from raw or undercooked fish or shellfish, including ceviche.
  • Skip the salads—eat only cooked vegetables.
  • Make sure any meals from street vendors are thoroughly cooked in your presence.
  • Don't bring home any perishable seafood.

If you develop diarrhea and vomiting in a country where cholera occurs, get medical help right away. Simple treatments are very effective as long as they're prompt.

Reviewed 3/3/2023

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