Cholera is a diarrheal disease caused by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium, Vibrio cholerae. Between five and 10-percent of those exposed to the bacteria develop acute watery diarrhea that can lead to severe dehydration, even death, within hours without proper treatment

People most at risk
People living in unsafe water and sanitation conditions are at risk as well as those with lower immunity, including from autoimmune disorders such as HIV/AIDS.

Consuming large amounts of water mixed with oral rehydration salts or, for cases of severe dehydration, administering intravenous fluids in addition to oral rehydration salts can effectively treat the majority of cholera cases. Antibiotics can also be administered along with a rehydration program.


Cholera, a highly infectious, but treatable diarrheal disease, is caused by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. An estimated 3 to 5 million people contract cholera every year and between 100,000 to 120,000 of those people die as a result. As many as 80 percent of cases can be treated successfully using oral rehydration salts, but its short incubation period, which ranges from two hours to five days, contributes to the often rapid speed of cholera outbreaks in communities that are without proper water and sanitation systems.

The disease emerged in the 19th century, when it spread across the world from its origin in the Ganges delta in India. Millions have been killed in six subsequent pandemics and the seventh, still present today, started in South Asia in 1961 and reached Africa in 1971. According to the World Health Organization, the number of cholera cases continues to rise, with outbreaks occurring in 56 countries in 2008 alone. In October 2010, a cholera outbreak struck the earthquake-shattered country of Haiti for the first time in at least a century, infecting hundreds of thousands and creating an immediate need for cholera treatment centers, prevention campaigns, and training for Haitian medical professionals, which International Medical Corps is working to provide.

Information from World Health Organization


Making sure communities have access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities is critical in the prevention of cholera. Community education around personal hygiene and food and water safety is also important. Strong health surveillance systems are also vital in making sure cholera is detected early on and proper control mechanisms can be put in place. However, antibiotics are not effective as a preventative measure against cholera and should not be administered.

While water and sanitation systems and community education campaigns are the most effective cholera prevention methods, the World Health Organization does recognize that there are two safe and effective oral vaccinations available for cholera - Dukoral and Shanchol. Both vaccines are administered in two doses, six weeks apart, and can be used in areas where cholera is endemic, but they should not replace larger prevention mechanisms, such as safe water and sanitation systems and community health education.


International Medical Corps has extensive experience in cholera outbreak response and prevention.

In Haiti, International Medical Corps was one of the first responders to the outbreak and continues to treat and prevent the spread of disease through cholera treatment centers, oral rehydration points, water and sanitation systems, and community education campaigns. MORE

In Zimbabwe, International Medical Corps responded to the deadly outbreak of 2008 and then launched a subsequent emergency water and sanitation campaign before the onset of the rainy season in 2009. MORE

In Cameroon, International Medical Corps was awarded $700,000 from the Gates Foundation to combat an outbreak in the northern part of the country through treatment, surveillance, water and sanitation, infection control, and community education. MORE

In Iraq, International Medical Corps partnered with UNICEF in a rapid response to a cholera outbreak in 2008. MORE


For nearly 30 years, a significant number of International Medical Corps’ responses have included technical assistance for the treatment and control of epidemic diseases. We work to help vulnerable communities prevent and respond to infectious diseases that have the potential to cross borders and become acute public health risks including:


For 30 years, International Medical Corps has worked to relieve the suffering of those impacted by war, natural disaster and disease by delivering vital health care services that focus on training, helping devastated populations return to self-reliance.