Cholera is a disease that causes dehydration from severe diarrhea. The bacteria responsible for cholera is Vibrio cholerae. Infection typically occurs when an individual drinks contaminated water, or eats food that has been contaminated. According to the World Health Organization, infection can kill within a few hours if not appropriately treated. There are between one and four million new cases each year and as many as 142,000 deaths annually.
In June, the FDA approved Vaxchora, new vaccine intended to prevent travelers from cholera infections. It is the only approved vaccine for the disease and is intended for use in adults between the ages of 18 and 64 who will be traveling to areas affected by cholera. Although it is possible for the infection to be mild, the potential for it to evolve into a life threatening condition has prompted the development of the vaccine for the most prevalent serogroup. While this is the only FDA approved vaccine, there are currently two other vaccines approved by the WHO. Shanchol and Dukoral are both oral cholera vaccines and have been used by the WHO in mass vaccination efforts to protect at risk populations.
Vaxchora is also an oral vaccine. It is made of a live virus that has been weakened. It is administered at least 10 days prior to traveling to a location with cholera activity. It is the first tool aside from preventative sanitary strategies available for U.S. travelers. The vaccine’s efficacy has been demonstrated in human trials with a success rate of 90% at the 10-day mark and 80% at the three-month mark. The most common side effects from the vaccine included abdominal pain, tiredness, nausea, headache, diarrhea, and decreased appetite.
This vaccine is one of the drugs to receive fast track status by the FDA in order to reduce the length of time needed to get the medication reviewed for approval. The program was put into place to address life-threatening conditions for which there were no existing treatments available.
Anyone going on a trip should take the time to learn about the conditions in the area they will be visiting. The CDC and the Department of State both maintain current warnings and alerts that can help people plan their trips. Cholera outbreaks are less common now than they once were due to better preventative techniques, awareness, treatment, and vaccines. But there are still instances, such as the one in Tanzania, which show how precarious management of contagious diseases truly is.
This vaccine gives travelers and healthcare providers a new tool to combat cholera infection. It is important those going to potentially affected areas become aware of the vaccine and take the necessary steps to have it administered far enough in advance of their trip for it to become effective.