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Cholera is a highly treatable bacterial infection, though it kills quickly when not treated. That makes speed — especially the speed with which fluids are administered to prevent dehydration — one of the most important factors in picking the best cholera treatment. Along with rehydration, cholera treatment options include antibiotics and zinc.
The risk of cholera is low in industrialized nations, and good food safety and hand-washing practices will generally prevent people from getting the disease, regardless of their location. Cholera is most commonly passed through feces. Most people who are infected do not get sick, but the bacteria remain in their stool for up to 14 days after infection. It generally causes diarrhea, and cholera treatment focuses on rest and staying hydrated, similar to treatment for stomach flu.
The best cholera treatment should include rehydration. A person with cholera is losing fluids through diarrhea, so a rehydration solution that includes water, salt and sugar is needed to replace the lost fluids. Just drinking water is not sufficient to get the best cholera treatment, because water will not replace the electrolytes and other nutrients being lost. Powdered rehydration solutions are available in developing countries and require only the addition of water before being ready to use.
Without proper rehydration, about half of people who contract cholera die. Less than 1 percent of those who are treated with rehydration do. People with access to more advanced medical treatment can get fluids through an intravenous (IV) line. One dose of an antibiotic known as azithromycin also can help both adults and children who have severe cholera, because it decreases the amount of time a patient will have diarrhea and should decrease the amount of vomiting a patient does.
Zinc supplements also are an option in cholera treatment. Children who have taken zinc have had less severe diarrhea than children who did not take the supplement. People who have symptoms and believe they have been exposed to cholera should seek medical care as soon as possible.
About 10 percent of people who are infected suffer more dangerous symptoms, including severe, watery diarrhea that comes on suddenly. People with severe cases can lose up to a quart (946 mL) of fluids in an hour, which is why quickly finding the most effective cholera treatment is critical. Other symptoms include nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps from loss of nutrients, dehydration and shock. Children with cholera may have a fever or convulsions, experience extreme drowsiness, or fall into a coma.