Cholera is a diarrheal disease that affects the intestines. Someone can get cholera after eating or drinking food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholera. Only a few cases of cholera are reported in the United States each year, but it remains an issue in areas that do not have access to clean drinking water or updated sewage systems. Approximately 1 in 10 people who get sick with cholera will become severely ill.
People that live in areas with unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation, and inadequate hygiene are at the highest risk of getting cholera. The germs that cause cholera are found in the poop of an infected person. It spreads when infected poop gets into food or water that people eat or drink. If infected poop gets into an inadequate sewage system or source of drinking water, cholera can spread quickly and affect large numbers of people. Cholera is not likely to spread directly from one person to another.
Symptoms can appear within 12 hours to five days after eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Most people infected with cholera will not have any symptoms. However, symptoms can range from mild to severe. Symptoms include:
- Watery diarrhea
- Leg cramps
In people with severe symptoms, the extreme loss of body fluids can lead to dehydration and shock. Without proper treatment, cholera can cause death within a few hours.
If you think you or someone you know has cholera, seek medical care immediately. Severe cases may require intravenous fluid replacement. Antibiotics can be taken to shorten the length of illness, but they are not as important as rehydration. With proper rehydration, less than 1% of cholera patients die.
Getting sick with cholera is rare in the United States. People from the U.S. are more likely to get cholera when they travel to countries in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America where cholera is commonly found. If you are traveling to an area where cholera is common, take simple steps to prevent getting sick:
- Only drink and use safe water. Safe water is water that is bottled, boiled, or has been treated with a chlorine product.
- Wash hands with soap and safe water.
- Eat packaged or freshly cooked foods. Wash and peel fruits and vegetables.
- Dispose of poop in a sanitary manner and do not poop in any body of water.
Information for providers
This is a Wisconsin disease surveillance category I disease:
- Report IMMEDIATELY by TELEPHONE to the patient's local public health department upon identification of a confirmed or suspected case. The local health department shall then notify the state epidemiologist immediately of any confirmed or suspected cases. Submit a case report within 24 hours. Submit a case report electronically through the Wisconsin Electronic Surveillance System (WEDSS), by mail or fax using an Acute and Communicable Disease case report F44151 (Word) or by other means.
- Information on communicable disease reporting
Wisconsin case reporting and public health follow-up guidelines
- Case Reporting and Investigation Protocol (EpiNet): Cholera (Vibrio cholerare 01/01390), P-01875 (PDF)
- Cholera and other Vibrio illness surveillance report CDC
- Daycare exclusion criteria (Included in Wall Chart for Childhood Diseases in Group Settings), P-00735 (PDF)
- Wisconsin Foodborne and Waterborne Disease Outbreak Investigation Manual, P-44722 (PDF)
For testing information, please call: Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene Clinical Customer Service 800-862-1013.
Questions about Cholera? Contact us!
Phone: 608-267-9003 | Fax: 608-261-4976