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Terms & Synonyms

Official WHO Definition

An intestinal infection, caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, which results in frequent watery stools, cramping abdominal pain, and eventual collapse from dehydration. It is thought that zooplankton in cold waters may carry large number of cholera vibrios on their bodies. Zooplankton feed by grazing on phytoplankton which bloom with sunshine and warm conditions. Thus, a phytoplankton (algal) bloom may lead to an increase in the population of zooplankton which carry the vibrios (WHO et al. 2003).Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It has a short incubation period, from less than one day to five days, and produces an enterotoxin that causes a copious, painless, watery diarrhoea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if treatment is not promptly given. Vomiting also occurs in most patients (WHO Health topics web site)

Other Definitions


Interpretations and Explanations

Cholera is a bacterial infection that causes both local outbreaks and worldwide pandemics, of which the current, and longest-running, began in 1961 (Colwell & Patz, 1998). Regional epidemics occur seasonally and are associated with periods of excessive rainfall, warm temperatures and increases in plankton populations (Colwell & Patz 1998; Shope 1991; Lipp et al., 2002).

Cholera Cases Worldwide

(Source: WorldMapperTerritory size shows the proportion of all cholera cases that were found there, in 2004 or in the most recent year for which data are available)

Cholera is an infection of the intestine, that causes copious watery diarrhoea, vomiting and leg cramps, and can quickly result in dehydration and death. Cholera is most common where there is poor sanitation and no access to clean water.

In 2004, 70% of all cholera cases identified were in the regions of Southeastern Africa, Northern Africa and Central Africa. Mozambique had the highest count of cholera cases, at 20 thousand. An epidemic in 1978 in the small population of the Maldives affected 3.8 people in every 100. The Maldives are barely visible on this map.

Cholera Deaths Worldwide

(Source: WorldMapper Territory size shows the proportion of worldwide deaths from cholera that occurred there in 2004 or most recent year available)

Cholera deaths result from severe dehydration caused by diarrhoea. This is treatable: in 2004 the number of cholera deaths was only 2.5% of the number of cholera cases that year. Distributions of cholera cases and deaths differ due to differing availability of treatments.

In 1962, in Papua New Guinea, 36% of cholera cases, which was 464 people, died. In 2004, in the Central African Republic, 15% of cholera cases, which was 48 people, died.

In contrast, there were 73 territories where nobody died from cholera, because of good sanitation, clean water and available treatment. These territories have no area on this map.


See also

External Resources

World's Cholera Cases on

Climate change and human health

Cholera: prevention and control

WHO Lexicon page (translations and examples)


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