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What is Cholera?

Cholera is a bacterial disease caused by Vibrio cholera that spreads through contaminated water. Severe Cholera leads to diarrhoea and dehydration which could become fatal if not treated on time. Once you are exposed to this bacterial infection, it may take about 5 to 12 days to develop symptoms. Depending on the infected person’s immune system, Cholera could be asymptomatic, mild, or severe. If appropriate preventive measures are taken on time, Cholera infection can turn into an epidemic in no time. In this article, we have to discuss the symptoms, causes, treatment, and preventive measures of Cholera in detail.

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Cholera is a bacterial disease that leads to severe cases of diarrhoea and dehydration. It primarily spreads through contaminated water. If no immediate medical treatment is provided to the patient, it can cause death within hours. Cholera is a serious disease that can be fatal, even if you are a healthy individual.

The disease is caused by a bacterium known as Vibrio cholera (V. cholera). This bacterium thrives in shallow, salty water. It is also found living among the eggs of midges. Toxin strains of cholera bacteria can trigger serious cases of diarrhoea in humans.

Cholera infection can quickly turn into an epidemic if appropriate preventive measures are not implemented. In this section, we have discussed everything you need to know about the diseases. Let us begin by understanding the cholera symptoms.

Symptoms of Cholera

The cholera symptoms are likely to develop between 12 days and 5 days after getting exposed to the bacteria. These symptoms can be mild or asymptomatic to severe, depending on the victim’s immune system. Some standard cholera symptoms are as follows:

  • Severe diarrhoea

  • Vomiting

  • Leg cramps

Since the case of diarrhoea in cholera patients is serious, they can lose up to 20 litres of water from the body in a day. This further leads to dehydration in most cases. The signs of dehydration are as follows:

  • Loose skin

  • Sunken eyes

  • Dry mouth

  • Fast heart rate

  • Low blood pressure

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • Rapid weight loss

Severe cases of cholera can lead to a collapse of the circulatory system. Get immediate medical help when the disease becomes life-threatening.

Causes of Cholera

As stated earlier, cholera is caused due to a bacterium called V. cholera. The bacterium produces toxins in the infected person’s small intestine. Because of it, the victim tends to secrete significant amounts of water, further leading to diarrhoea and dehydration.

While the bacterium does not affect every person who is exposed to it, they can still pass on the bacteria in their stool. This leads to contamination of food and water supplies in areas with poor hygiene. Contaminated water is the primary source of transmission for cholera disease.

The bacterium is found in the following places:

  • Surface or Well Water

Public wells are often the main source of large-scale cholera outbreak in an area. People living in unhygienic conditions with little to no sanitation process in place are at a higher risk of acquiring the disease.

  • Seafood

Consuming raw or undercooked seafood from waters that are exposed to cholera bacteria.

  • Raw Fruits and Vegetables

Raw or unpeeled fruits and vegetables are sometimes a source of cholera infection in areas. In developing countries like India, uncomposted manure fertilisers or irrigation water containing cholera bacteria can infect produce in the field.

  • Grains

Rice and millet grains that are contaminated after cooking and left outside at room temperature for hours can grow cholera bacteria.

While anyone exposed to the cholera bacterium is at risk of developing the infection, certain risk factors can make you more vulnerable to the diseases. These include:

  • Unhygienic Lifestyle

Cholera thrives in unsanitary environments. These conditions are mostly found in refugee camps, developing countries, and places affected by famine, war, and/or natural disasters.

  • Lack of Stomach Acid

Acids in our stomach prevents the cholera bacterium from spreading in the body. However, people with low levels of stomach acid, such as babies, older people, and people who take antacids, H2 blockers, or proton pump inhibitors are at risk of acquiring cholera.

  • Household Exposure

You are likely to suffer from cholera if you live with someone suffering from the disease.

  • Type O Blood

People with type O blood are twice as likely to suffer from cholera compared to people with other blood types.

What are the Health Complications Due to Cholera

As we know, serious cholera infection is fatal within a few hours if left untreated. Moreover, mild cholera cases can lead to death due to dehydration and shock (in hours or days) if no medical treatment is provided. While these two are some serious health complications of cholera, a few other issues may occur as well. These include:

  • Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)

Here, your blood sugar levels drop dangerously, making you too ill to eat. Children are at a higher risk of suffering from this condition, which can lead to seizures, unconsciousness, and death (in extreme cases).

  • Low Potassium Levels

People suffering from cholera lose significant minerals from the body, including potassium. Low potassium levels affect the heart and nerve functions, which can become life-threatening.

  • Kidney Failure

As cholera infection also affects kidney functions, the organ can lose its filtering ability. This leads to an excessive amount of toxic fluids and waste building up in the body, which can become life-threatening.

Diagnosis of Cholera

Your doctor can suspect cholera infection if you are suffering from severe diarrhoea, vomiting, and dehydration. Further, he/she might seek details on your travel history and other medical conditions. Your stool samples will be given to a laboratory for testing. However, if cholera symptoms are evident, the treatment for the diseases should begin before the test results come back.

Treatment for Cholera

Cholera needs immediate medical treatment before your condition worsens any further. Some effective treatments for cholera are as follows:

  • Rehydration

Since dehydration is one of the symptoms of cholera, doctors will suggest simple rehydration solutions to keep the body hydrated. These can include oral rehydration salts (ORS) or intravenous (IV) fluids. Cholera can be fatal in most cases if rehydration therapy is not provided in time.

  • Antibiotics

At times, cholera patients can be put on antibiotics to reduce the symptoms of diarrhoea.

  • Zinc Supplements

Zinc is known to decrease diarrhoea and shorten how long it lasts in children suffering from cholera.

Prevention of Cholera

When travelling to remote places in India, it is best to take preventive measures to protect yourself from contracting cholera. Some of these prevention methods include:

  • Washing your hands for 20 seconds or more with clean water

  • Drink bottled or boil water when travelling

  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked food (fruits, vegetables, and meat)

  • Avoid dairy food

  • Maintaining good personal hygiene

Additionally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends three cholera vaccines

  • Dukoral

Needs to be taken with clean water and provides 65% protection against cholera for two years.

  • Shanchol

Does not need to be taken with water and provides 65% protection against cholera for five years.

  • Euvichol

Does not need to be taken with water and provides 65% protection against cholera for five years.

All these vaccinations need two doses for protection against cholera.

Moreover, it is essential to note that cholera vaccines do not provide complete protection against the disease. You are still likely to suffer from the infection if you are exposed to cholera bacteria. If you already are vaccinated for cholera and then are exposed to the bacterium, you might need a second dose or booster of the vaccine to prevent yourself from the infection.


Cholera is a serious disease that can be fatal. If you are suffering from cholera symptoms, it is best to get immediate medical attention. In case the symptoms worsen, the doctor can suggest hospitalisation until complete recovery.

Further, know that hospitalisation and treatment can often leave you and your family with financial overheads. The least you can do is get an adequate health insurance plan to cover such sudden/planned medical needs.

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