When a person becomes infected with the bacteria that cause cholera, the bacteria begin to multiply within the intestines. After 24 to 48 hours, symptoms can occur. The period between becoming infected and the start of cholera symptoms is called the incubation period.
An infection with Vibrio cholerae is often mild or without symptoms, but sometimes symptoms are severe. Approximately 1 in 20 infected people has severe symptoms. These people may experience a rapid loss of body fluids, leading to dehydration and shock. Without treatment, death can occur within hours.
(For a list of specific symptoms, click Cholera Symptoms.)
In order to make a diagnosis, the doctor will ask a number of questions and perform a physical exam to look for signs of cholera and fluid loss. If the doctor suspects this illness, he or she will ask for a stool sample. This sample will be examined under a microscope for evidence of Vibrio cholerae (see Pictures of Cholera).
(Click Cholera Diagnosis for more information.)
People who develop severe diarrhea and vomiting (in countries where cholera occurs) should seek medical attention promptly. When a diagnosis is made, treatment should begin immediately. If treatment is started early, symptoms and complications can be minimized. Treatments can include:
- Fluid replacement
- Antibiotics (medicine that can kill the bacteria).
(Click Treatments for Cholera for more information.)