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Cholera

did you know?

In Australia, about 2 to 6 cases of cholera occur every year in people who have recently travelled to countries where cholera is common.

Cholera - What is it?

Cholera is a bacterial infection of the intestine caused by a type of bacteria called Vibrio cholerae. People can catch cholera by drinking water or eating food that is contaminated with the cholera-causing bacteria. This usually occurs in areas where hygiene and the quality of drinking water are poor.

Cholera - Who is at risk?

The risk of cholera infection in travellers is generally very low - even in countries where cholera is common. Simple measures can be taken to help reduce the risk of cholera infection such as drinking boiled/bottled/treated beverages, eating food that has recently been cooked and peeling all fruit just before eating. The risk for some people, however, may be greater such as those:

  • working in disaster situations and refugee camps; or
  • with conditions such as inflammation of the bowel (inflammatory bowel disease), impaired immunity or major heart disease

Other people may be at risk of cholera infection. Please speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about cholera infection.

Cholera - How is it spread?

Infection most commonly occurs from consuming food or drinks that have been contaminated with the cholera bacteria - such as water, ice, seafood, fruits and uncooked vegetables or leftover food that has not been properly reheated.

Cholera - What are the symptoms?

Approximately 75% of people who become infected with cholera will not show any symptoms. For those who do develop symptoms, most will experience mild diarrhoea. Some people will develop severe symptoms with a sudden onset of excessive watery diarrhoea and vomiting.  This can lead to a rapid loss of body fluids, causing serious dehydration and potentially death.  

This is not a full list of symptoms that can occur following cholera infection. If you feel unwell while travelling or when you return home, make sure you see a doctor as soon as possible.

Cholera - Prevention

As the risk of cholera infection is quite low, Australian health authorities rarely recommend cholera vaccination for Australian travellers; however, it may be recommended for those at considerable risk (see 'Who is at risk?' section).

Travellers to areas where cholera is common can reduce their risk by avoiding potentially contaminated food and water. Some prevention measures include:

  • drink and use safe clean water e.g: only using sealed bottled water or boiled water to drink and brush teeth
  • do not put ice in drinks unless you know it’s from safe water
  • good hygiene practices such as washing hands often using soap and safe clean water
  • avoid food kept at room temperature for several hours
  • avoid uncooked food, including salads and fruit that cannot be peeled, and seafood
  • thoroughly boil or cook food and drinks

An easy way to remember what to avoid is: If you cannot boil it, cook it or peel it - forget it.

It is also advised that travellers carry rehydration salts in case of severe diarrhoea and dehydration. 

Cholera - Treatment

It is important that cholera infection is treated quickly in order to prevent dehydration and potentially death. Treatment usually involves oral rehydration solutions to replace fluids and salts lost through diarrhoea and vomiting. People who are severely dehydrated may need intravenous (IV) fluids and antibiotics.

It is important to plan ahead and see your doctor at least 6 to 8 weeks before you travel to discuss vaccination and travel health.

 

Some side effects may be experienced following vaccination. Please discuss any side effects or concerns with healthcare professional.

 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE SPEAK TO YOUR HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL

 

AUS/VAC/0010/15. Date of approval: March 2015.