A vaccination is available to protect against cholera when travelling, although most people won't need it because food and water hygiene precautions are usually enough to prevent infection.
Vaccination is usually only recommended for travellers to areas where cholera is widespread, particularly for aid workers and people who are likely to have limited access to medical services.
The cholera vaccine is usually available on the NHS, but this can vary. It's also available through private prescription from a private travel clinic.
The cholera vaccine is given as a drink, where the vaccination ingredients are mixed with water. You should avoid eating, drinking or taking oral medication for an hour before and after having the vaccination.
For adults and children over the age of six, two doses of the vaccine are needed to protect against cholera for two years. After this, a booster is required if you continue to be at risk.
Children who are two to six years of age will need to have three doses of the vaccine. This will protect them for six months. After this, they will need to have a booster if they continue to be at risk.
All the doses must be taken one to six weeks apart. If more than six weeks passes between doses, you'll need to start the full vaccination course again.
Ideally, the vaccination course should be completed at least one week before travelling.
The cholera vaccine isn't recommended for children under two years of age, because it's not clear how well it works in this age group.
Side effects and precautions
After having the cholera vaccine, less than 1 in 100 people will experience short-term symptoms similar to a mild stomach upset, such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea and nausea. Severe reactions are very rare.
Most people can have the vaccination safely, but you should tell the doctor or nurse before being vaccinated if you:
- have a high temperature (fever) or stomach upset
- are pregnant or think you might be pregnant
- are breastfeeding
- have a condition, or are receiving treatment, that affects your immune system
In these circumstances, you may still be able to have the vaccine if you're at a high risk of getting cholera, but your doctor or nurse may need to check with a travel medicine specialist before giving it to you. The vaccination may need to be delayed if you're unwell with a fever or upset stomach.
You shouldn't have the vaccine if you've had an allergic reaction to the cholera vaccine or any of the vaccine components in the past.