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What is cholera?

Cholera is an illness that gives you severe diarrhoea and dehydration. It is most likely to be found in parts of the world with poor water and sanitary services.

What are the symptoms of cholera?

Cholera can be mild or severe. Severe illness is usually indicated by extreme watery diarrhoea, leg cramps, and vomiting. Dehydration and shock are common. Without urgent medical care including intravenous hydration, cholera can be fatal.

A person can get cholera from drinking water or eating food that has been contaminated with the cholera bacterium. The illness can spread rapidly particularly in areas with poor hygiene.

How is cholera managed?

The main treatment for cholera is oral rehydration therapy to replace fluid and salts lost through diarrhoea. People with severe dehydration will need intravenous fluids.

Can cholera be prevented?

The risk of catching cholera is usually very low so most travellers don’t need to be vaccinated. Safe food and water is far more important than vaccination to prevent cholera.

However, the cholera vaccine is recommended for children aged 2 years and over and adults (such as emergency/relief workers) travelling to areas where there is a high likelihood of exposure to cholera. It is also recommended for people with certain conditions that put them at greater risk of travellers’ diarrhoea, such as poorly controlled diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, HIV and significant cardiovascular disease.

This table explains how the cholera vaccine is given, and whether it is on the National Immunisation Program Schedule. Some diseases can be prevented with different vaccines, so talk to your doctor about which one is appropriate for you.

How many doses are required?

Children aged 2 to 6 need 3 doses, 1 to 6 weeks apart.

Adults and children aged over 6 years need 2 doses, 1 to 6 weeks apart.

How is it administered? Oral (powder mixed into liquid)
Is it free?

No, there is a cost for this vaccine.

Find out more on the Department of Health website and the National Immunisation Program Schedule, and ask your doctor if you are eligible for additional free vaccines based on your situation or location.

Common side effects The vaccine is very safe. Rare side effects may include mild tummy pain, discomfort and diarrhoea.

Resources and support

  • For more information on cholera, visit the Department of Health’s web page on travel immunisation.
  • If you need to know more about cholera, or need advice on what to do next, call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 to speak with a registered nurse, 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2020

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