Diarrhea Home > Cholera

Cholera, an acute illness characterized by diarrhea, is usually caused by the Vibrio cholerae bacterium. The illness has been very rare in industrialized nations for the last 100 years, but it still occurs frequently in parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In order to prevent it, it's important to avoid contaminated food and water.

What Is Cholera?

Cholera is an acute, diarrheal illness caused by an infection with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, in the intestines. The infection is often mild or without symptoms, but sometimes it can be severe. Although the illness can be life-threatening, it is easily prevented and treated.
In the United States, because of advanced water and sanitation systems, this particular illness is not a major threat. However, everyone, especially travelers, should be aware of how it is transmitted and what can be done to prevent it.

Vibrio Cholerae

Vibrio cholerae is the type of bacteria that causes cholera. There are two general types of Vibrio cholerae:
  • Vibrio cholerae Serogroup O1
  • Vibrio cholerae Serogroup non-O1.
Vibrio cholerae Serogroup O1 is the type of Vibrio cholerae that most often causes the disease. Vibrio cholerae Serogroup O139, a Vibrio cholerae Serogroup non-O1 bacterium, is the other cause of the disease.
(Click Cause of Cholera for more information.)

How Is It Transmitted?

The disease is usually spread by eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with Vibrio cholerae.
There are two ways that Vibrio cholerae usually gets in water or food:
  • Contaminated feces
  • Naturally.
It is not likely to spread directly from one person to another; therefore, casual contact with an infected person is not a risk for becoming ill.
(Click How Is Cholera Spread? to learn more about transmission of this disease.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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