Intestinal infection with Vibrio cholerae results in the loss of large volumes of watery stool, leading to severe and rapidly progressing dehydration and shock. Without adequate and appropriate rehydration therapy, severe cholera kills about half of affected individuals. Cholera toxin, a potent stimulator of adenylate cyclase, causes the intestine to secrete watery fluid rich in sodium, bicarbonate, and potassium, in volumes far exceeding the intestinal absorptive capacity. Cholera has spread from the Indian subcontinent where it is endemic to involve nearly the whole world seven times during the past 185 years. V cholerae serogroup O1, biotype El Tor, has moved from Asia to cause pandemic disease in Africa and South America during the past 35 years. A new serogroup, O139, appeared in south Asia in 1992, has become endemic there, and threatens to start the next pandemic. Research on case management of cholera led to the development of rehydration therapy for dehydrating diarrhoea in general, including the proper use of intravenous and oral rehydration solutions. Appropriate case management has reduced deaths from diarrhoeal disease by an estimated 3 million per year compared with 20 years ago. Vaccination was thought to have no role for cholera, but new oral vaccines are showing great promise.
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