Symptoms can occur within 24 to 48 hours of being infected with the cholera-causing bacteria. Cholera symptoms are generally mild; they include diarrhea, vomiting, and muscle cramps. About 1 infected person out of 20 has severe signs and symptoms, such as increased heart rate, dehydration, and shock.
When a person becomes infected with the bacteria that cause cholera (Vibrio cholerae), the bacteria begin to multiply within the intestines. After 24 to 48 hours, symptoms of cholera can occur. The period between becoming infected and the start of cholera symptoms is called the cholera 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 cholera symptoms. These people may experience a rapid loss of body fluids, which can lead to dehydration and shock. Without cholera treatment, death can occur within hours.
Specific symptoms of this condition can include:
- Sudden onset and large amounts of watery diarrhea. Diarrhea is usually painless.
- Muscle cramps.
- Stool that has a characteristic "rice-water" appearance -- grey, slightly cloudy with flecks of mucus, and a slightly sweaty odor (see Pictures of Cholera).
As fluid is lost, other symptoms can occur, including:
- Increased heart rate
- Reduced urine production
Fever is not a symptom of cholera.
Serious cholera symptoms and complications can occur rapidly; therefore, if a person is experiencing possible symptoms of cholera, he or she should see a healthcare provider immediately. Cholera treatment will reduce the chance of serious complications.