Cholera is a bacterial disease causing severe diarrhoea.


Cholera is a bacterial disease causing severe diarrhoea. The key symptom of a severe and potentially fatal attack of cholera is sudden slimy diarrhoea resembling rice water, up to 30x/day. This is accompanied by abdominal pain and vomiting. It is important to replace the lost fluids when ill. Hygiene measures must be observed when travelling in countries where cholera occurs.


Incubation period: short, from a few hours to five days


  • Potentially fatal due to severe loss of mineral salts and fluids
  • If not treated properly, symptoms can cause cardiovascular failure in just a few hours

Causes and treatment


  • Pathogen: Vibrio cholerae bacterium
  • Transmission
    o Bacteria are excreted in stool or vomit
    o Infection through contaminated water or food
Risk factors

Further treatment by your doctor / in hospital

Possible tests
  • Stool analysis (microscopic examination)
  • Faecal culture (identification of bacteria)
  • Physical examination
Possible therapies
  • Isolation
  • Sufficient replacement of lost fluids and salts
    • Rehydration solutions
    • Infusions, if necessary
  • Medication
    • For nausea and vomiting
    • Painkillers and antispasmodics, if necessary
    • Antibiotics

What can I do myself?

  • Basic hygiene measures
  • Inform travel doctor/institute for tropical diseases at least 3 months before leaving on a trip
    • Endemic areas: cholera vaccination is recommended
  • Avoid travelling to developing countries with newborns, infants and older people
  • Don’t self-treat by taking medication for diarrhoea and vomiting
    • Stool must be passed, otherwise the bacteria remain in the bowel
  • Special rehydration solutions from the pharmacy to replace lost fluids and mineral salts
  • WHO oral rehydration solution (as a temporary measure until a doctor can be reached!)
    • 1 litre boiled water
    • ¾ tsp. salt, 4 level tsp. sugar
    • Pinch of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
    • 1 mashed banana, 1 cup orange juice; mix

When to see a doctor?

  • Sudden severe, watery and slimy diarrhoea
  • Very frequent bowel movements
  • Accompanied by vomiting and muscle spasms
  • Collapse, changes in awareness

Further information

Federal Office of Public Health, FOPH (Bundesamt für Gesundheit, BAG)

Ostschweizer Infostelle für Reisemedizin (Eastern Switzerland Information Centre for Travel Medicine)

Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Schweizerisches Tropen- und Public Health-Institut)

FDFA (travel links)



Exclusion of liability

CSS offers no guarantee for the accuracy and completeness of the information. The information published is no substitute for professional advice from a doctor or pharmacist.