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Microbiology and pathogenesis of Vibrio cholerae infection

Regina LaRocque, MD, MPH
Jason B Harris, MD, MPH
Section Editor
Stephen B Calderwood, MD
Deputy Editor
Allyson Bloom, MD


Cholera is a rapidly dehydrating diarrheal disease caused by a toxin-producing bacteria, Vibrio cholerae.

The etiologic agent and pathogenesis of infection with toxigenic V. cholerae is reviewed here. The clinical approach to patients with cholera is discussed separately. (See "Overview of cholera".)

Infections due to other strains of V. cholerae that do not cause epidemic cholera, are also discussed elsewhere. (See "Infections due to non-O1/O139 Vibrio cholerae".)


Etiologic agent — V. cholerae is a distinctive, comma-shaped gram-negative rod. Organisms are highly motile and possess a single polar flagellum. V. cholerae is salt-tolerant, requiring NaCl for growth (halophilic) and exists naturally in aquatic environments. While in aquatic environments, V. cholerae may enter a viable but non-culturable form [1]. However, V. cholerae is readily grown from clinical specimens, including stool and rectal swabs, and can be identified in microbiology laboratories using selective media and biochemical tests. (See "Overview of cholera", section on 'Diagnosis'.)

Only cholera toxin-producing (toxigenic) strains of V. cholerae are associated with cholera. While some environmental V. cholerae are toxigenic and capable of causing cholera, most environmental V. cholerae isolates are not toxigenic. Toxigenic strains harbor a filamentous bacteriophage (CTXΦ) which encodes cholera toxin [2]. (See 'Genomic features' below.)

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Oct 06, 2016.
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