Cholera is mainly transmitted through drinking water or eating food that has been contaminated by the feces of an infected person. If the diarrhea and vomiting is very severe, it can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Cholera can also result in death in some cases and can kill within hours if it remains untreated.
Cholera is very common in Africa, Central and South America and South Asia. While travelers are at low risk if they practise good hygiene and follow safe food and water precautions, there is always a risk for those who visit areas that have limited access to safe water and proper sanitation. The risk of cholera increases further in areas that have been through a disaster such as a hurricane, earthquake or civil unrest. This usually results in a disruption of the region’s water and sanitation system and may also cause the population to be displaced. Overcrowding can also play a role in the spread of this disease.
It is generally recommended that if you plan to travel in areas where cholera occurs, you should visit a travel clinic six weeks before you travel. If you are aware that you might be at high risk, you should consider getting vaccinated. However, since the cholera vaccine is a two dose vaccine and may offer only incomplete protection, travelers are cautioned to closely follow standard prevention and control measures.
There are five basic cholera prevention measures that travelers should follow. Drink and use safe water whether it’s for drinking, brushing, preparing food and washing kitchenware; wash your hands often with soap and safe water – before eating, preparing food, feeding children, using the washroom and after taking care of someone who is ill; always use latrines or other sanitation systems and wash hands with soap and water after; eat well-cooked food; and wash yourself, your family, diapers, clothes etc. at least thirty meters way from drinking water sources.
Cholera can be treated easily through the prompt administration of oral rehydration salts (ORS). Patients who are severely dehydrated may require administration of intravenous fluids. Some may also require antibiotics to reduce diarrhea and also to shorten duration of V. cholera excretion. However, overuse of antibiotics is not recommended for this disease.