Epidemics, Pandemics of Cholera

on 6.2.09 with 0 comments

Cholera has always been endemic in India and Bangladesh, in the huge delta formed by the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Jamuna and Meghna rivers. Probably there was no cholera in Europe or America before the 19th century. Between 1817 and 1923 there were various great pandemics, probably caused by the classic V. cholerae (there is no certainty as to the exact strain). The first pandemic which started in 1817 did not reach Western Europe. In 1829 the bacterium was introduced into the countries around the Persian Gulf via a British army unit stationed in India. From Iran the infection spread to Iraq, Syria, Georgia and Astrakhan (north of the Black Sea). It then travelled towards Odessa, Moscow, Vienna, Warsaw and Hamburg reaching England via the port of Sunderland. The first cases in London were seen in February 1832. The third pandemic merged with the second and was amplified by the miserable conditions during the Crimean war. The pathogen was discovered in 1884 by Robert Koch during the fifth pandemic (first work in 1883 in Alexandria, Egypt, confirmation followed by research in India in 1884, with isolation of the bacterium in culture). In fact the bacterium had already been described in 1849 by Pouchet and in 1854 by Filippo Pacini, an Italian physician. However, the latter’s work on this was not known outside Italy (he was known abroad due to his description of Pacini’s corpuscules, the pressure receptors in the skin). The germ theory and in particular the work of Koch were attacked by Pettenkorfer and his student Emmerich, who each drank a vial filled with bacteria as proof against the role of V. cholerae. Amazingly, Pettenkorfer did not then get cholera, but Emmerich suffered severe diarrhoea for 48 hours. When each pandemic began and ended is rather unclear. There was cholera in Belgium in 1832, 1848, 1854, 1859, 1866 and 1892. In 1866, 1 Belgian in 100 died of cholera.

Cholera pandemics since 1817
























V. cholerae O1, classic


1899 -1923


V. cholerae O1, classic


1961 to present


V. cholerae O1, El Tor


1992 to present

Madras, India

V. cholerae O139

After the sixth pandemic there was a strange silence for about 40 years, for which no good explanation exists. The seventh pandemic was caused by El Tor. It started in 1961 in Celebes (Sulawesi), Indonesia, reached India in 1964 and Africa in 1970. In 2 years the infection passed through 29 African countries. In 1973 it arrived in the Gulf of Mexico. Early in 1991 the infection spread rapidly in Peru. In 3 weeks there were 30,000 cases. The bacterium then spread further into South America, causing 360,000 cases within the year. In the summer of 1992 a second, less severe outbreak occurred. Nevertheless by August 1992 "only" 5,000 deaths had been reported (from an estimated total of 600,000 cases), thanks to the wide-spread use of rehydration therapies. The case-fatality ratio varied depending on the region. After 1993 the disease assumed an endemic character in several countries, sometimes with local outbreaks. At the end of 1993 the cumulative total amounted to 900,000 cases in three years (1991-1993), with a cumulative mortality of 8,000. According to one hypothesis cholera bacteria infected the marine plankton off the Peruvian coast via the ballast water from a Chinese freighter. The possible role of changes in the nutrient-rich von Humboldt current is still unclear.

About 80% of the cholera in 1997 occurred in Africa, chiefly in the horn of Africa (118,000 cases were reported officially). The increase in cholera in this region followed heavy rains and flooding (possibly associated with the El NiƱo weather phenomenon).

Since 1992 V. cholerae O139 is recognised as a cause of a disease which is clinically identical to classic cholera, but which also occurs frequently in adults. Classic cholera in India, on the other hand, is common in children. There is no cross immunity with V. cholerae O1. Bacteria of the 0139 serogroup have a polysaccharide capsule (unlike V. cholerae O1), which may explain the increased risk of septicaemia. In the following years this new serogroup spread across Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Southeast Asia. By the end of March 1993 more than 100,000 cases had been reported in Bangladesh. If further spread continues, as with the earlier epidemics, it will be possible to refer to this as the beginning of the eighth pandemic. It was observed in India that, after the first spread of V. cholerae O139, new variants (clones) of V. cholerae O1 El Tor once more gained the upper hand. Cholera also surfaces regularly in Madagascar. From the beginning of December 1999 until the end of February 2000 more than 12,400 cases were reported. The disease can thus certainly not be regarded as an entity which only existed “in the past”.

Category: Medical Subject Notes , Microbiology Notes



Post a Comment