How To Prevent Traveling Infections

Preventing Cholera

Publications International, Ltd. Eating food contaminated with V. cholerae bacteria can cause cholera.

Cholera is a diarrheal illness that can cause severe dehydration; without treatment, cholera can be fatal. You can contract this disease by drinking water or eating food that has been contaminated by V. cholerae, often from the feces of an infected person.

If a country has inadequate water and sewage treatment, V. cholerae bacteria can spread through rivers and coastal waters. Drinking water or eating seafood from infected sources can spread the infection. Cholera is rarely spread person to person because it takes more than a million bacteria to cause the disease. Outbreaks of cholera occur yearly, especially in Africa during the rainy season.

After they are consumed in infected water and food, whatever cholera bacteria survive the harsh acidic environment of the stomach set up shop in the small intestine, where they reproduce rapidly and create a toxin that causes watery diarrhea. However, not all V. cholerae strains produce toxin.

Some people infected by cholera have few or no symptoms, but others react more severely. Diarrhea is the disease's hallmark, but it might be accompanied by vomiting and leg cramps. Only 5 percent of people who get cholera will end up with the most severe symptoms. For those unfortunate few, rehydration is vital, but because the intestines' ability to absorb fluids is not affected, rehydration can be done orally rather than intravenously. Almost everyone who encounters cholera bacteria will recover with no complications.

The Culprit

The bacterium Vibrio cholerae causes cholera.

Who's at Risk?

Travelers to Africa and Latin America have the greatest risk for contracting cholera. Adequate water and sewage treatment has all but eliminated the disease in the United States, but rare cases occur along the Gulf Coast.

Defensive Measures

You can cut your chances of contracting cholera while traveling if you take some precautions:

  • You should wash your hands thoroughly and often to help avoid ingesting and spreading V. cholerae.
  • Make good choices when eating and drinking in a foreign country (see the travelers' diarrhea profile in this chapter for more information). The cholera bacterium spreads easily, so being careful about what you eat and drink is your best defense against it.
  • Don't bring any seafood back to the United States.
  • Africa and India have been enduring cholera outbreaks for decades. Before you travel, find out which countries might require you to take more precautions. Get the latest disease information at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Web site ( or call the CDC's Travelers' Health Automated Information Line at (877) 394-8747.

Read next about hookworms, which can enter your skin at unassuming places like the beach or sandboxes in the next section.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.