Cholera is caused by a bacterium, vibrio cholerae, which produces a toxin that affects the intestines. This bacterium has been at the origin of devastating epidemics worldwide throughout history.
Symptoms of cholera
After an incubation period ranging from a few hours to four days, cholera is mainly characterized by acute watery diarrhea associated with vomiting.
The severity of the disease is mainly correlated to the risk of severe dehydration, which can lead to death in a few hours.
Treatment thus relies on a rehydration adapted to the patient’s condition.
Epidemiology and vaccination against cholera
Cholera is a strictly human disease that is transmitted from person to person through fecally contaminated food and water and thus affects mainly developing countries in Asia, South America, and Africa. In 2005, more than 130,000 cases in the world, including more than 2,000 deaths were reported to WHO.
Hygiene and sanitation are the cornerstones in the fight against this disease.
Vaccination against cholera is available but provides only limited protection.
Cholera vaccines. WHO position paper; WER 2006; 81:297-308