Bacterial infection caused by Vibrio cholerae. The patient suﬀers profuse watery DIARRHOEA, and resultant dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Formerly known as the Asiatic cholera, the disease has occurred in epidemics and pandemics for many centuries. When it entered Europe in 1853, Dr John Snow, a London anaesthetist, carried out seminal epidemiological work in Soho, London, which established that the source of infection was contaminated drinking water derived from the Broad Street pump. Several smaller epidemics involved Europe in the latter years of the 19th century, but none has arisen in Britain or the United States for many years. In 1971, the El Tor biotype of V. cholerae emerged, replacing much of the classical infection in Asia and, to a much lesser extent, Europe; parts of Africa were seriously aﬀected. Recently a non-01 strain has arisen and is causing much disease in Asia. Cholera remains a major health problem (this is technically the seventh pandemic) in many countries of Asia, Africa and South America. It is one of three quarantinable infections.
Incubation period varies from a few hours to ﬁve days. Watery diarrhoea may be torrential and the resultant dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, complicated by cardiac failure, commonly causes death. The victim’s skin elasticity is lost, the eyes are sunken, and the radial pulse may be barely perceptible. Urine production may be completely suppressed. Diagnosis is by detection of V. cholerae in a faecal sample. Treatment consists of rapid rehydration. Whereas the intravenous route may be required in a severe case, in the vast majority of patients oral rehydration (using an appropriate solution containing sodium chloride, glucose, sodium bicarbonate, and potassium) gives satisfactory results. Proprietary rehydration ﬂuids do not always contain adequate sodium for rehydration in a severe case. ANTIBIOTICS, for example, tetracycline and doxycycline, reduce the period during which V. cholerae is excreted (in children and pregnant women, furazolidone is safer); in an epidemic, rapid resistance to these, and other antibiotics, has been clearly demonstrated. Prevention consists of improving public health infrastructure – in particular, the quality of drinking water. When supplies of the latter are satisfactory, the infection fails to thrive. Though there have recently been large epidemics of cholera in much of South America and parts of central Africa and the Indian subcontinent, the risk of tourists and travellers contracting the disease is low if they take simple precautions. These include eating safe food (avoid raw or undercooked seafood, and wash vegetables in clean water) and drinking clean water. There is no cholera vaccine at present available in the UK as it provides little protection and cannot control spread of the disease. Those travelling to countries where it exists should pay scrupulous attention to food and water cleanliness and to personal hygiene.