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