The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently recommended that Americans who travel to areas of the world where there is active cholera should be vaccinated. There is now a single dose oral vaccine available that was approved just last year. It is the only single dose vaccine available in the USA but outside the US, there are three other vaccines recommended by the World Health Organization.
Cholera is a serious bacterial infection which can cause rapid dehydration because of severe diarrhea. Most people quickly become lethargic and weak and without hydration, death can occur. The infection is usually spread after drinking contaminated water and due to poor sanitation and lack of hygiene. Presently, there are at least 50 countries that have active cholera. The majority of cholera cases are found in Africa and India.
It is not necessary to get the cholera vaccine when traveling within the US or when traveling to countries where cholera is not a problem. However, any healthcare workers or tourists going to an area where there is an active outbreak of cholera are being recommended to get the oral vaccine.
In 2010, during the earthquake in Haiti, many American workers who went to assist the government fell ill from cholera. Today, the top destinations for Americans where cholera is active include the Dominican Republic, India, China, Jamaica and the Philippines. So far no country has been requesting that travelers be vaccinated before travel.
However, all travelers should understand that taking the cholera vaccine doesn’t replace preventive measures like drinking clean water and practicing safe personal hygiene. In most cases, when the cholera vaccine is taken, it significantly lowers the duration and severity of the diarrhea. In addition, the vaccine is 80% effective even 3 months after the vaccine.
The cholera vaccine has not yet been tested in women who are breastfeeding or pregnant. In addition, it is not known if the vaccine still remains effective after the first 3 months and if a second dose is required. Reported side effects of the vaccine include fatigue, abdominal cramps, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and anorexia.
So far the CDC doesn’t have much data on how many Americans have actually taken this vaccine and if it has been effective. Perhaps it is too soon to judge the effectiveness of the vaccine. In any case, the best advice at the moment is to either avoid traveling to cholera-active regions or if absolutely necessary, take the vaccination and all necessary precautions.