Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae O1 or O139. It is a global threat to public health and a key indicator of lack of social development.

Recently, the re-emergence of cholera has been noted in parallel with the ever-increasing size of vulnerable populations living in unsanitary conditions.

There are between 21 000 to 143 000 deaths due to cholera every year. Of all deaths caused by cholera, only a small proportion are reported to WHO. While 129 000 to 589 900 cases of cholera have been reported annually to WHO over the past 5 years, it is estimated that between 1.3 and 4.0 million cholera cases occur every year.1

Up to 80% of cases can be successfully treated with oral rehydration solution (ORS. However, very severely dehydrated patients require administration of intravenous fluids. These patients also receive appropriate antibiotics to diminish the duration of diarrhoea, reduce the volume of rehydration fluids needed, and shorten the duration of V. cholerae excretion.

Among people developing cholera, 80% have mild or moderate diarrhoea. Where sanitation facilities are not available bacteria are shed back into the environment, which is a source of further potential infection. About 75% of people infected with Vibrio cholerae O1 or O139 do not develop any symptoms.

Typical at-risk areas of cholera include peri-urban slums with limited access to safe drinking water and a lack of proper sanitation
Risk of cholera is highest in areas where basic infrastructure is not available, as well as in camps for internally displaced population or refugees, where minimum requirements of clean water and sanitation are not met.

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