Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Tests To Diagnose Cholera

Submitted on March 27, 2012

Cholera is an infection of the small intestine. It is caused by bacteria called Vibrio cholera. A person can get cholera after eating food or drinking water that is contaminated by the above mentioned bacteria. This bacterium can also thrive in coastal waters and brackish rivers. Therefore one can get cholera after eating raw or undercooked seafood. This disease, however, cannot be spread after direct contact with a person who is infected with this bacterium. Keep in mind that cholera is an acute disease which can even lead to death within hours, if it is not treated. Risk factors for cholera include traveling to places or living in areas where there is cholera and being exposure to untreated or contaminated drinking water.

Tests Recommended

Cholera tests include a blood culture or a stool culture. Perhaps the best way to diagnose and identify the bacteria that causes cholera is in a stool sample. Doctors can confirm the presence of the bacteria by testing a rectal swab as well. Rapid dip stick tests are also available now which help to check for the bacteria. Further testing may be carried out on stool samples that come back positive for the cholera bacteria. Some doctors may carry out dark field atomic tests on fresh stool samples to look for quick moving bacteria. Quick diagnosis and confirmation of this infectious disease can lead to fast treatment. Treatment is often started before a final diagnosis.


Cholera is caused by the Vibrio cholerae bacteria. However the effects that cholera causes is due to a toxin called CTX. This toxin is produced by the bacteria in the small intestine. Once the bacterium has got past the stomach (which is acidic) it reaches the small intestine (which is alkaline). It then begins to multiply in this alkaline environment. The CTX toxin binds itself to the intestinal walls and begins to interfere with the normal flow of chloride and sodium. This toxin causes more water to be released into the intestines and this produces the severe diarrhea that is associated with cholera. Cholera is usually spread by eating food or drinking water that is infected with this bacterium. The two ways by which this bacterium gets into food or water is either naturally or by contaminated feces.


Most people do not exhibit any cholera symptoms. Cholera symptoms usually make an appearance about one to five days after a person is infected. People who are infected with the bacterium and suffer from mild or moderate diarrhea do not realize that they are suffering from cholera. It is often hard to differentiate cholera symptoms from diarrhea that is caused by some other problem. Some of the most common cholera symptoms are described below:-

Diarrhea that is related to cholera comes on suddenly. This type of diarrhea has a 'fishy' odor and has a pale, milky appearance. This watery diarrhea in the infected persons has a pale, milky like appearance. This type of diarrhea that is associated with cholera is also often described as a rice water stool. The diarrhea caused by cholera will be in large volumes and will contain mucus and dead cells.

Vomiting and nausea could occur both during the early and late stages of cholera. The vomiting may range from mild to severe and could be persist for several hours at times. Both the diarrhea and vomiting could result in the person losing more than one quart of salts and water within an hour.

Dehydration may follow once the diarrhea and vomiting starts. This dehydration can again be either mild or severe and depends on how much body fluid has been lost. Severe dehydration can be life threatening and may lead to other problems such as painful muscle cramps, make the skin floppy, leg cramps, confusion, lethargy, excessive thirst, a dry mouth, dry skin, sunken eyes, low blood pressure, low urine output and so on. Severe dehydration may lead to a rapid breathing rate as well as a rapid heart rate.

Children exhibit more or less the same cholera symptoms as adults but some may also experience unusual sleepiness, tiredness, or even convulsions. Abdominal cramps are another symptom of cholera.


Cholera treatment involves replacing the lost fluids and electrolytes. This is done by using oral rehydration salts. Such cholera treatment almost always helps to cure the person. However, people who are suffering from severe cases of cholera may need to be given this solution intravenously. Other cholera treatment involves the use of antibiotics. There are also many home remedies to treat cholera such as drinking the fresh juice of bitter gourd or drinking lemon juice. Zinc supplements may be prescribed to treat children who are suffering with cholera. It is important that treatment be started right away and the loss of fluids be rectified before severe dehydration and other related problems begin.