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Cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases

Cholera bacteria. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A brief guide to the causes, treatment and prevention of cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases.

Diarrhoeal diseases

  • Diarrhoeal diseases are the second leading cause of death of children under five years of age.1
  • In 2019, diarrhoea killed around 500,000 children under five years of age.2,3
  • Globally, there are nearly 2 billion cases of childhood diarrhoeal disease every year.
  • Diarrhoea kills around 1,400 children under five years of age every day – more than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined.
  • Diarrhoeal diseases were responsible for an estimated 1.53 million deaths in 2019, including around 43,000 neonatal deaths.                          


  • Cholera is caused by infection with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.
  • A 2015 study estimated between 1.4 and 4.3 million cases of cholera every year.4
  • The Global Burden of Disease 2019 study estimated that cholera caused around 117,240 deaths in 2019, including around 55,000 deaths of children under five.2,3
  • Most cases can be successfully treated with oral rehydration solution (ORS); zinc treatment is also recommended by the WHO.
  • An affordable oral cholera vaccine, Shanchol, has been shown to provide high levels of protection in settings where cholera is endemic.

Other causes of diarrhoeal diseases

  • Rotavirus may be responsible for about 40% of hospitalizations for diarrhoea in children under five years of age in unvaccinated communities.5
  • Rotavirus caused around 151,513 deaths of children under five years of age in 2019.2,3
  • Other common bacterial causes of diarrhoeal disease include CampylobacterEcoli, non-typhoidal Salmonella and Shigella.
  • Common parasitic causes of diarrhoeal disease include CryptosporidiumEntamoebahistolytica and Giardia lamblia.


Mortality estimates from Global Burden of Disease 2019 study2,3

  Children <5 Total
Adenovirus 83,491 107,065
Campylobacter 58,910 139,079
Cryptosporidium 77,523 133,422
Enterotoxigenic E.coli 12,399 39,801
Rotavirus 151,513 235,330
Non-typhoidal Salmonella 39,493 61,646
Shigella 93,831 148,202


1.     https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/diarrhoeal-disease

2.     https://www.healthdata.org/gbd/2019

3.     https://vizhub.healthdata.org/gbd-compare/

4.     https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4455997/

5.     https://academic.oup.com/jid/article/222/10/1731/5755890