This cholera fact sheet looks at a disease that has been a constant threat to mankind.

cholera fact sheet

  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), each year cholera infects 1.3 to 4 million people around the world.
  • Cholera kills 21,000 to 143,000 around the world each year.
  • Cholera is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium called Vibrio cholerae.
  • Vibrio cholerae typically live in waters that are somewhat salty and warm, such as estuaries and waters along coastal areas.
  • People contract Vibrio cholerae after drinking liquids or eating foods contaminated with the bacteria, such as raw or undercooked shellfish.
  • There are hundreds of strains of cholera.
  • These strains produce the cholera toxin that causes cells lining the intestines to release increased amounts of water, leading to diarrhea and rapid loss of fluids and electrolytes (salts).
  • A single diarrhea episode can cause a one-million-fold increase of bacterial numbers in the environment, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
  • About 80 percent of people who contract the bacteria don’t develop cholera symptoms and the infection resolves on its own.
  • The other 20 percent comes down with severe symptoms, which include severe diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps. These symptoms can cause dehydration, septic shock and even death within a matter of just a few hours
  • Cholera vaccines are available, though they only offer roughly 65% immunity, according to WHO.

Learn more about cholera and other diseases, outbreaks, and pandemics that threatened human civilization throughout history in our special podcast series: Plagued: Humanity’s History with Disease, Outbreaks, and Pandemics.

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