People contract cholera after coming into contact with food or water contaminated by the cholera bacterium, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease can spread rapidly in places where the feces of infected people spreads to the water supply or food due to inadequate sewage and drinking water treatment. Coming into contact with an infected person is not a direct risk factor for cholera.
Between 5 and 10 percent of people with cholera suffer from a severe form that causes constant watery diarrhea, vomiting and leg cramps, states the CDC. Patients with the severe form of the condition lose bodily fluids rapidly, leading to dehydration and shock, and need immediate medical attention to prevent death. People with cholera usually display symptoms within two to three days, but symptoms may appear within a few hours or as long as five days after exposure.
Doctors diagnose cholera by taking stool samples and testing them for the cholera bacterium, notes the CDC. The most important immediate treatment for cholera is rehydration through a combination of fluids, sugar and salt in large amounts. In more severe cases, doctors may treat cholera patients with intravenous fluids. Doctors may also prescribe antibiotics to lessen the severity of cholera.