(CNN) - Cholera is a bacterial illness that causes severe diarrhea and dehydration and can be lethal within hours if a person is not treated.
"This is a bacteria that actually is in the environment. It's in brackish water in the river. It can be in seacoasts and if the environmental conditions are not right, the cholera bacteria can grow up and then anyone who ingests that water or food that comes from that water or food that is prepared with that water can get ill," says Dr. William Schaffner, chair of Preventive Medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
In an epidemic, cholera can also be spread from the feces of an infected person. Children and adults alike are vulnerable. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), three-quarters of people carrying the bacteria have no symptoms. For those who do get sick, the main symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, muscle cramps, dehydration and shock. Death can occur if treatment is not immediately administered.
Filed under: 360° Radar
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with