October 22nd, 2010
02:09 PM ET

Cholera can be deadly within hours

Cholera is a bacterial illness that causes severe diarrhea and dehydration and can be lethal within hours if a person is not treated.

"This is a bacteria that actually is in the environment. It's in brackish water in the river. It can be in seacoasts and if the environmental conditions are not right, the cholera bacteria can grow up and then anyone who ingests that water or food that comes from that water or food that is prepared with that water can get ill," says Dr. William Schaffner, chair of Preventive Medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

In an epidemic, cholera can also be spread from the feces of an infected person.  Children and adults alike are vulnerable.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), three-quarters of people carrying the bacteria have no symptoms. For those who do get sick, the main symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, muscle cramps, dehydration and shock. Death can occur if treatment is not immediately administered.
While human remains don’t typically pose a health threat, the WHO notes that bodies of people who have died from cholera do pose a health risk and should be kept away from polluting sources of drinking water.

The WHO estimates  3–5 million people are sickened by cholera each year causing 100,000–120,000 deaths.

The bacteria can spread when human waste enters water systems and people drink the contaminated water or eat food that's been cooked in contaminated water.  While modern sewerage systems have almost completely eliminated cholera in industrialized countries, it can thrive in areas where war, disaster, or extreme poverty forces people to live in crowded and unsanitary conditions, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Cholera is easily treated if people can be rehydrated.  In many cases, giving patients oral rehydration salts can help relieve symtoms.  In more severe cases, IV fluids may and antibiotics are required.   According to the WHO, the fatality rate may be 30-50 percent if left untreated.   Two vaccines are available to prevent cholera, but they are not always readily available in situations where disaster and impoverishment flourish.

Improving sewerage and sanitation conditions is the best way to prevent cholera outbreaks and spread, according to the WHO.  But this is not always practical in times of disaster, where food, hygiene and public health tracking may be compromised.

soundoff (903 Responses)
  1. r

    I think the basic thing I am most thankful for on a daily basis is clean, safe drinking water here in this country

    October 22, 2010 at 20:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sunny

      Joe- R's response was to express their thanks for having the means to have clean drinking water. Stop being sarcastic. Instead of drumming up conspiracy theories, do some good and donate money/time to RESOLVING the problem instead of slinging mud.

      October 23, 2010 at 14:07 | Report abuse |
    • capnmike

      Joe, WHERE on earth do you get this incredible nonsense???? If you hate our government so much that you have to invent preposterous lies, then just get out! You won't be missed. Otherwise, stop blathering and pitch in and help.

      October 25, 2010 at 10:41 | Report abuse |
    • Zeit_Geist

      nonsense? theres all kinds of toxins in the US water supply happily sanctioned by our own elected officials
      chlorine, fluoride and god knows what else
      the Nazis experimented with fluoride on the Jews, do you think they wanted to save their teeth?
      do your own research before ignorantly calling something a lie
      TPTB have modified the water and food supply to dumb down the population, I dont believe i need to provide evidence....

      October 25, 2010 at 13:14 | Report abuse |
    • Zeit_Geist

      toxins in the water supply is a fact not a conspiracy "theory"
      do your own independent research before attacking others statements
      take your tap "water' to a lab and find out whats in it

      October 25, 2010 at 13:21 | Report abuse |
  2. scottAb

    At least 50% of these deaths could have been prevented by the installation of shallow, small diameter wells along the banks of the river using a drilling rig that costs $20,000. Supplies for each well would be less than $500. The water could be retrieved by hand, using a $2 bailer.... the groundwater wouldn't be perfect, but it would be much better than the surface water they're drinking.

    October 22, 2010 at 20:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bmul28

      Why wasnt' this done? Where are all the relief agencies that have so much of the American monies? This is really an outrage...maybe Sanjay will be able to get the focus back on Haiti.

      October 24, 2010 at 19:58 | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      Unfortunately, almost none of the US money has reached Haiti yet. Some of it is being held up by Republicans in a political gambit, while other money is waiting for the State Department to get before a Congressional Committee to lay out the expenditure plan. Almost none of it is in Haiti. http://www.devex.com/en/articles/what-s-the-truth-about-delay-of-us-aid-to-haiti?source=ArticleHomepage_Center_2

      October 25, 2010 at 11:10 | Report abuse |
    • Chuck

      Sam you should really get your facts correct before posting. Seems part of the money is on hold from the republicans and the rest is on hold from The State Department.

      "“It is true that Coburn has placed a hold on much-needed funds for Haiti – USD500 million in fact – but he is not holding up the USD1.15 billion that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised to a round of applause at the UN donors’ conference,” IRIN says.

      Those funds remain in the U.S. Treasury because it cannot be disbursed until the State Department outlines before various congressional committees how exactly the funds will be spent, IRIN says. The department also needs to report how oversight of the spending will be handled."

      October 25, 2010 at 11:47 | Report abuse |
  3. The_Mick

    Tchaikovsky, visiting his family in St. Petersburg during a cholera epidemic, came to his father's house one day in a bad mood. He drank a glass of water direct from the tap and when scolded for not boiling it first, he said, "What does it matter?" He was dead the next day!

    October 23, 2010 at 00:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Calvin Hobbes

    These non-government governments just aren't up to the task of doing these types of precautions. Not that the U.S. is any better, Dept of Health and Human services dilgence to standard immunizations and prevention such as H1N1 was virtually non-existant.

    October 23, 2010 at 02:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • capnmike

      Fixing everybody else's problems is NOT our responsibility...we are not the world's babysitter.

      October 25, 2010 at 10:42 | Report abuse |
  5. Constantine

    We need to change the way people have access to clean drinking water – its a damn shame we dont already

    October 23, 2010 at 10:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Horace

    we really take alot for granted, don't we?

    October 23, 2010 at 12:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. bonsai say hey

    bonsai say hey!

    October 23, 2010 at 12:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. bonsai say hey


    October 23, 2010 at 12:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Odalice Yolanda Feliz


    October 23, 2010 at 12:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Jim Weix

    It is sad that people like "Joe" and "bonsai say hi" are allowed to exist. We also need to begin cleaning up the human gene pool by getting rid of people that wear their pants around their knees or measure their manhood by the size of the tires on their truck.

    October 23, 2010 at 13:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Daniel

      Around here we call those "short dick trucks".

      October 23, 2010 at 14:39 | Report abuse |
  11. RandyZ

    The WHO estimates 3–5 million people are sickened by cholera each year causing 100,000–120,000 deaths.
    So how do 200 deaths make worldwide headlines?

    October 23, 2010 at 13:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • tomcat3

      What about the 1,000-1,200 people that die EVERY day from cigarettes in our country?
      Where are the news cameras and reporters? Face it, someone wants those cash donations pretty bad!!!

      October 23, 2010 at 13:57 | Report abuse |
    • Nedy Mel

      don't you think one life should be enough to make headline news? what if it was some closed to you, would you still feel the same way?

      October 23, 2010 at 14:13 | Report abuse |
    • Sunny

      Tomcat- your point is stupid. Ciggy smoking is a CHOICE. Most people that die of water/food borne illness is mostly due to a catostophic event, lack of resources and education. Those that smoke, for the most part, can read the warning label on their pack of smokes. They choose to ignore it. I have no pity for them compared to the people of Haiti.

      October 23, 2010 at 14:15 | Report abuse |
  12. Nedy Mel

    It is about time that the International community puts together plan to start helping the less fortunate nations, not to sit back and wait for a disaster to break then to say we need to do something fast, after so many lives have been wasted.

    October 23, 2010 at 14:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Sunny

    Keep your racist remarks to yourself.

    October 23, 2010 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. mindsweeper

    Cholera can be treated with antibiotics and rehydration.Hurrricanes, flooding, tyhoons cause longlasting damage. Poor countries don't have any water purification systems, they also need clean wells and proper sewage systems. They need the funding. Even here, in Canada and US, we should be boiling our tap water, especially in big cities. Even drinking from plastic containers is risky because of toxins in the plastic. I'm hoping Haiti gets enough $ relief to solve this cholera crisis.

    October 23, 2010 at 16:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Marjorie de Muynck


    "Die liberals and make it painful"...this is absolutely a racist remark.....now I know why we had slaves who were tortured and why this country is falling quickly.....RACISTS!!!

    October 23, 2010 at 16:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Um,

      Liberalism and Conservatism are world views, not races

      October 25, 2010 at 09:23 | Report abuse |
  16. PARROT


    October 23, 2010 at 16:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lioness

      They don't have the means to boil drinking water for that many people. They drink what they can find to survive.

      October 25, 2010 at 12:01 | Report abuse |
  17. fleming

    Two things: 1) Vitriolic anti-liberal bias does not equal racism–terminal stupidity possibly, but not racism _as such_. 2) wouldn't it be possible to dispense water purification tablets to Haiti, the kind our troops use? I don't think those even require boiling the water. Seems like a fairly low-cost solution to such a life-threatening crisis. Between those and rehydration salts, they could manage a short term solution while they're working on overhauling the water supply.

    October 24, 2010 at 15:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Root

    WHAT happened to the millions of $$ that was contributed to Haiti when the earthquake occurred?
    Excuse me, but shouldn't these people still living in tents among the rubble be taken care of by now with money that generous people provided??

    October 24, 2010 at 21:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kay

      Good question. The Red Cross received almost 400 million in contributions, as of May they only spent about 105 million and they allegedly said they were saving money for the future, in case Haiti had more problems. Well.. this looks like another problem to me!
      As of September only 10% of more permanent housing has been built. Most of the people who were in tents are still in tents.

      October 25, 2010 at 08:18 | Report abuse |
    • neal kelley

      remember what happened during 911... the red cross was using the money donated for 911 for other projects... it is no different now...

      October 25, 2010 at 09:55 | Report abuse |
    • Proud American

      Congress needs to have hearings on the Red Cross and how they are using the money. I am sickened to find out that all the money the US has sent to Haiti is sitting their coffers waiting for "future use." These people DO NOT HAVE HOMES, no working water, no food??? Please someone look into this – or I will not send another red cent to the Red Cross.

      October 25, 2010 at 11:09 | Report abuse |
  19. Jack W

    What breed of chimp does CNN have editing these stories? The last 2 or 3 paragraphs barely make sense, they are so fraught with errors. The profession of journalism is dead.

    October 25, 2010 at 10:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. john

    Easy fix, surrounded by ocean, a couple desalinization plants is all it takes, yes, expensive at first, but then unlimited source of clean water for generations to come. Still cheaper in the long run.

    October 25, 2010 at 10:20 | Report abuse | Reply
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  21. votemout

    Always has been a nasty place! always will be a nasty place!

    October 25, 2010 at 10:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • kohethanolic

      Life goes in circles, you sick and insensitive bas...d. Just wait for your turn.

      October 25, 2010 at 11:51 | Report abuse |
  22. morgan painter

    In remember an aircraft carrier that was sent to Indonesia after the Christmas tsunami struck. Those have water treatment facilities on board. Why isn't one of those there now? Or even just a couple of other ships with water treatment? Surely that would be less costly than flying in bottled water.

    Or, as one other posted suggested, why wasn't some of the money used to drill medium depth wells that could be used as emergency water supply. The Red Cross would be wise to send in teams to teach people how to prevent the spread of it, thereby having fewer people who need treatment.

    October 25, 2010 at 10:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Tammy Downs

    Nedy Mel is Paul's adopted-baby daddy. Jack W is his lover.

    October 25, 2010 at 11:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. John

    Does anyone remember the corrupt regimes of the not so distant past in Haiti ? Why do you think that pouring money in there will end up anywhere but in the cars, homes and pockets of the political elite? I'm all for NATO or the Red Cross providing materials and skills for the projects needed to help these poor people. BUT, where does it stop? This country has been a horrid example of the most decrepid, unlivable conditions for over 50 years. They have been helped countless times before. If a people, or a society, don't take the steps to improve there own situation, it can't be done for them. I'm not sure what the solution is. Any suggestions?

    October 25, 2010 at 11:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. bird

    in response to this:


    Unfortunately, almost none of the US money has reached Haiti yet. Some of it is being held up by Republicans in a political gambit, while other money is waiting for the State Department to get before a Congressional Committee to lay out the expenditure plan. Almost none of it is in Haiti. http://www.devex.com/en/articles/what-s-the-truth-about-delay-of-us-aid-to-haiti?source=ArticleHomepage_Center_2

    Just where do you get off blaming this on the political parties???????? What about the money Obama is using to rent the top of the 5 star hotel on a European vacation??????? Why isn't THAT money going towards helping Haiti?????? Stop blaming politics! I'm sick of all the negative crap! Get out there and help the poor people who are unable to help themselves because of Mother Nature!

    October 25, 2010 at 11:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Zeit_Geist

    toxins in the water supply is a fact not a conspiracy "theory"
    do your own independent research before attacking others statements
    take your tap "water' to a lab and find out whats in it

    October 25, 2010 at 13:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. c. smallwood

    If two different vaccines are available–why hasn't the WHO or the Peace Corps started shipping vaccine down there?????????
    If they saw this coming back in April 2010, what is the LAME excuse for the failure to plan? As an Air Force brat in 1975-76, we got the vaccine in Thailaid when there was a Cholera epidemic there. It's 2010–WTH? C.

    October 26, 2010 at 05:59 | Report abuse | Reply
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    you can always count on 5 star hotels when you want maximum comfort and a lot of souvenirs -.,

    November 22, 2010 at 05:26 | Report abuse | Reply
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