Cholera is an acute, diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. This bacterium is usually found in contaminated water or food sources, but it can also be found in the environment, in rivers and coastal waters. An estimated 3 – 5 million cases and over 100,000 deaths occur globally each year. However, if treated properly with prompt rehydration, fewer than 1 percent of cholera patients die.
Individuals can avoid infection with cholera by drinking only bottled, boiled, or treated water, and by washing hands often with soap and clean water. National governments can prevent the spread of the disease by improving water security and sanitation infrastructure.
A number of Central American countries, including Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and El Salvador, are reported to have issued cholera alerts in response to the Mexico outbreak. A devastating outbreak in Latin America in the 1990s caused 10,000 deaths, and despite improvements in infrastructure and surveillance since that time, the memory of this outbreak has left the region concerned at the prospect of a repeat attack.