Cholera is an epidemic disease caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae which (depending on the virulence of the infecting strain) causes mild to severe diarrhea, leg and stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting. The worst cases result in severe dehydration from fluid and electrolyte loss that can lead to shock, kidney failure, and death.

The illness can come on suddenly, and the incubation period can range from 6 hours to a little less than a week. People with depressed immune systems and reduced stomach acidity are at the highest risk of contracting cholera after exposure.

The bacteria cause disease by attaching to the wall of the small intestine and pumping out a polypeptide toxin that causes the aforementioned symptoms.

It is spread by food and water contaminated with the bacteria, usually from feces from individuals who have the disease. Poor sanitation (e.g., untreated water, cooks not washing their hands) is the main cause of cholera outbreaks. However, eating raw or undercooked shellfish that have been taken from sewage-contaminated water can also cause an outbreak. Scientists have found that some strains of cholera are naturally growing in the temperate Gulf Coast waters of the U.S.

Most of the 200-odd cholera cases reported in the United States from 1973 to 1991 are thought to have been caused by people eating underdone shellfish (thus, if you're in Louisiana, you might want to pass on the raw oysters). There have been no cases in the U.S. since then, and there have been no cholera epidemics in the U.S. since 1911. However, the disease can easily develop in any disaster situation where fresh water and washing facilities are not available. Epidemics are common in underdeveloped countries; the disease is the cause of much additional misery in crowded refugee camps around the world.

If you're in an area known for cholera outbreaks, the best way to avoid the disease is to wash your hands religiously and to avoid eating any raw foods, including salads and fruit. Drink only bottled beverages. As the Centers for Disease Control states: "Boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it." Taking small daily doses of Pepto Bismol may also help ward off the disease, because the bismuth in the medicine acts as an antibacterial agent. However, it also contains salicylate and should not be consumed by people who are allergic to aspirin, who are already taking medicines containing salicylates or who are taking blood thinners. There is also an oral cholera vaccine for people like Peace Corps volunteers who regularly work in cholera-stricken areas.

People with cholera are primarilly treated for dehydration. They are given fluids containing the electrolytes sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, potassium chloride, and glucose; these fluids may be given orally (if they are not suffering from vomiting) or intravenously. Tetracycline and other antibiotics are sometimes given; these drugs will shorten the course of the disease, but cholera generally runs its course and the patient will recover on his or her own if the dehydration is taken care of.


Cholera (pronounced kho-LE-ra) is also a powerful swearword in Polish, with a fairly obvious etymology. To an extent, it has become part of Israeli slang as well, mostly due to the sheer number of former Poles living in Israel.

IANAP, strictly speaking, but I understand cholera to have a range of meanings - from a vague "damn it!" to a harsh comparison of a person with the disease of the same name. The latter use roughly carries the meaning of "bastard" or "asshole", only much stronger. Do not say this to your mother.

Complex swearphrases that can be made using cholera include "psiakrew cholera" (dog-blood cholera?), "cholera jasna" (white cholera?), and naturally "psiakrew cholera jasna" (white dog-blood cholera?). The native Polish speakers I've asked could not help me make much sense of these phrases, despite being able to use them to great effect.

Real Poles are most welcome to correct me where I am wrong.

Chol"er*a (?), n. [L., a bilious disease. See Choler.] Med.

One of several diseases affecting the digestive and intestinal tract and more or less dangerous to life, esp. the one commonly called Asiatic cholera.

Asiatic cholera, a malignant and rapidly fatal disease, originating in Asia and frequently epidemic in the more filthy sections of other lands, to which the germ or specific poison may have been carried. It is characterized by diarrhea, rice-water evacuations, vomiting, cramps, pinched expression, and lividity, rapidly passing into a state of collapse, followed by death, or by a stage of reaction of fever. -- Cholera bacillus. See Comma bacillus. -- Cholera infantum, a dangerous summer disease, of infants, caused by hot weather, bad air, or poor milk, and especially fatal in large cities. -- Cholera morbus, a disease characterized by vomiting and purging, with gripings and cramps, usually caused by imprudence in diet or by gastrointestinal disturbance. -- Chicken cholera. See under Chicken. -- Hog cholera. See under Hog. -- Sporadic cholera, a disease somewhat resembling the Asiatic cholera, but originating where it occurs, and rarely becoming epidemic.


© Webster 1913.

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