Some history

Vibrio cholerae was first isolated and described by Dr. Robert Koch in 1883, nearly 30 years after John Snow deduced that cholera was spread by water. The most recent major cholera epidemics were in Haiti (beginning in 2010) and in Zimbabwe in 2008

What is Vibrio cholerae, and where is its natural habitat?

Vibrio cholerae is a gram negative bacterium that is shaped like a curved rod. It is able to grow either with or without oxygen. It is found most commonly in bays and estuaries, especially in warmer climates. Shellfish growing in contaminated waters can develop a high concentration of the bacterium.

How is Vibrio cholerae transmitted? What is the incubation period of the illness?

Vibrio cholerae infections are transmitted through the consumption of contaminated food or water. The typical incubation period is from 24 hours to 72 hours.

What are the symptoms of Vibrio cholerae food poisoning?

Symptoms usually consist of a profuse, watery diarrhea and vomiting.

What is the prognosis of Vibrio cholerae food poisoning?

Symptoms are severe and can last for 3 to 7 days, resulting in serious dehydration. Victims who are malnourished, or who are already suffering from another disease, are at an elevated risk of death.

What foods carry Vibrio cholerae?

Vibrio cholerae may be found in water, especially in crowded living conditions, such as occur in refugee relief camps. It also is found in shellfish that are harvested from contaminated estuaries. Outbreaks of cholera have been traced to the consumption of contaminated seafood, frozen coconut milk, and home-canned palm fruit. Any food that has been washed with contaminated water may carry Vibrio cholerae.

How can people protect themselves from Vibrio cholerae?

  • By paying attention to food recall announcements and immediately discarding any recalled food or returning it to the store.
  • By not consuming raw or undercooked seafood.
  • By not drinking water that may be from a contaminated source.
  • By taking special precautions when traveling to areas where cholera is endemic, including avoiding drinking tap water, eating cut fruit or fresh salads.

For more information on Vibrio cholerae and other food-borne pathogens, visit the CDC website or read Food Safety: Old Habits, New Perspectives.

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