Cholera is a severe illness caused by the cholera bacteria, Vibrio cholerae.
In countries that have poor access to clean drinking water and sanitation, the bacteria can be found in drinking water, uncooked seafood and other foods.
Drinking or eating this food and water can cause severe diarrhoea and sometimes vomiting.
Almost all cases in Australia are in people who were infected while overseas.
Very rarely cases occur in Australia in people who eat contaminated imported food, or raw seafood from coastal rivers especially in northern NSW and Queensland.
Symptoms of cholera include:
Some people don’t have any symptoms or only have mild diarrhoea, particularly in children.
Symptoms begin within a few hours to up to five days after being infected with the bacteria.
If not treated, cholera can be fatal. It is important to speak to a doctor as soon as you have symptoms.
People who travel to countries with poor access to clean drinking water and sanitation are most at risk of getting cholera.
A doctor will run a test on a faeces sample (poo) to confirm that you have cholera.
Diarrhoea and vomiting can cause severe dehydration. It is very important that people who develop severe diarrhoea and vomiting seek medical attention immediately.
Cholera is treated with an oral rehydration solution. This involves drinking large amounts of a water solution with sugar and salt in it.
Severe cases may need these fluids to be given through a needle or tube. If patients are given lots of fluids, fewer than 1% of cholera patients die.
Antibiotics can reduce the time and severity of the illness, but rehydration is the most important.
Laboratories and hospitals must let the local public health unit know about cholera cases, under the Public Health Act 2010. Public health units investigate cases to identify possible sources of infection and to prevent spread.
For further information please call your local public health unit on 1300 066 055.