Cholera is not regularly found in Australia. There have been a very small number of cases reported in Australia over the past few years, however they were mostly contracted overseas.
Cholera is a vaccine-preventable disease, which typically spreads through contaminated water or food. Modern sewage and water treatment have helped to eliminate cholera in most countries. However, it’s still a problem in countries affected by war, poverty, and natural disasters and where conditions may force people to live in crowded areas without proper sanitation.
In most cases (up to 75% of reported cases), people infected with cholera show no signs of symptoms of the disease, but the person does remain potentially infectious to others. Common symptoms include watery diarrhoea and vomiting. Although cholera is easily treated, if symptoms are ignored and left untreated then it can be fatal in a matter of hours, even in people who were otherwise healthy.
Reported cases of cholera are usually linked to a recent history of travel to a cholera-endemic area. Vaccination is recommended for some people, in particular travellers at increased risk of acquiring diarrhoeal disease.
For further information on cholera and its prevention, speak with your healthcare professional.
Key disease information
Cholera is an acute (sudden onset) disease with symptoms of severely, watery diarrhoea (“rice-water stools”) and vomiting. This causes rapid fluid loss, leading to dehydration – which can be fatal. However, some people experience only mild symptoms and some none at all.
Cholera is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, which is found in water and soil contaminated with faeces (poo). Therefore, cholera is acquired by eating food or drinking fluid that is contaminated with faeces.
The best way to prevent getting cholera is to practice good personal hygiene, and ensure food and water is not contaminated with faeces. While cholera is generally not found in Australia (only a small number of cases have been reported, and almost always in relation to overseas travel), if you are planning on travelling to a country that is at risk of a cholera outbreak, precautions are important to consider.
Spreading cholera between person-to-person is unlikely, however, cholera is a disease often found in areas with poor sanitation, poor water treatment, and low levels of personal hygiene (mostly in developing countries).
Cholera is spread by:
- drinking contaminated water
- eating food contaminated by dirty water, soiled hands or flies
- eating fish or shellfish from contaminated waters.
In most cases), people infected with cholera show no signs or symptoms of the disease, but the infected person can still remain infectious to others. Symptoms may appear quickly, in as little as 12 hours after initial exposure to the bacterium, or may appear up to five days later.
Symptoms of severe cholera include:
- sudden onset of painless, but severe, watery diarrhoea
- nausea and vomiting (early in the illness)
- severe dehydration (as a result of rapid fluid loss)
In severe untreated cases, death may occur within hours, but with simple treatment, full recovery can be expected.
In severe cases, where a large amount of fluid is lost through vomiting and diarrhoea, rapid fluid replacement is immediately required.
Patients can drink an oral rehydration solution (ORS), which is pre-packaged sugar and salts mixed with water, or if required, intravenous fluids (i.e. drips) and electrolytes (salts) may be administered through a needle in a vein.
Antibiotics may also be used to shorten the duration of symptoms.
Before administering treatment see your healthcare professional who will assess your situation.
Cholera is not usually found in Australia, but the bacteria have been found in some rivers along the eastern coast as well as, on rare occasions, in river mouths.
Cholera is commonly found in developing countries with poor sanitation, poor water treatment and lower levels of personal hygiene. Regions where cholera is most commonly found include parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Intermittently it has also been reported in the Middle East and the Pacific Islands.
Although vaccines for cholera are available, routine vaccination is generally not recommended for cholera and is not an official entry requirement for any country. Vaccination may be considered for special cases, such as people with some existing medical conditions, or those working in humanitarian relief or natural disaster areas.
Before and during travel to high-risk countries: 7
- seek advice from a travel medical clinic or an experienced general practitioner on how to protect yourself from cholera and other diarrhoeal illnesses
- regularly wash hands with soap and water
- drink only water that has been boiled or disinfected with iodine or chlorine tablets. Carbonated bottled drinks are usually safe (if no ice is added)
- eat freshly prepared and/or hot food, and avoid eating raw foods or vegetables (unless they can be peeled)
- always practice good food handling procedures.
Sources & Citations
- Australian Government Department of Health. The Australian Immunisation Handbook. Cholera. Available at: immunisationhandbook.health.gov.au/vaccine-preventable-diseases/cholera (accessed 24 November 2021).
- World Health Organization. Cholera. Available at: www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cholera (accessed 24 November 2021).
- Queensland Health. Cholera Queensland Health Guidelines for Public Health Units. Available at: www.health.qld.gov.au/cdcg/index/cholera (accessed 24 November 2021).
- NSW Health. Cholera Factsheet. Available at: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Factsheets/cholera.pdf (accessed 24 November 2021).
- Healthy WA. Cholera. Available at: healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Cholera (accessed 24 November 2021).
- World Health Organization. Cholera Frequently asked questions and information for travellers. Available at: https://www.who.int/cholera/technical/FaqTravelersNov2010.pdf?ua=1 (accessed 24 November 2021).
MAT-AU-2102456 Date of preparation December 2021Show All