Risk of cholera epidemics estimated with new rule book

Researchers from across the world have studied cholera outbreaks in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean from the last 60 years

Risk of cholera epidemics estimated with new rule book

Transmission routes of seventh pandemic V. cholerae El Tor populations to, from and within Africa. Image Credit: Science DOI: 10.1126/science.aad5901

Cholera has repeatedly traveled out of Asia to cause epidemics in Africa and Latin America, an international research team has found. Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Institut Pasteur in France, and collaborators from across the world, studied outbreaks in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean from the last 60 years.

The results of two studies, published in Science (10 November), present a new ‘rule-book’ to estimate the risk of different cholera strains causing an epidemic. (Francois-Xavier Weill et al. and Daryl Domman et al.)

Despite being thought of as an ancient disease, cholera still affects 47 countries world-wide and claims the lives of nearly 100 thousand people a year*. Since the 1800s, there have been seven cholera pandemics around the globe, resulting in millions of deaths. The current and ongoing pandemic, which began in the 1960s, is caused by a single lineage of Vibrio cholerae, called 7PET.

The largest epidemic in history is ongoing in Yemen, with the total number of cases quickly approaching 1 million, and the WHO recently announcing a campaign to stop cholera by 2030**.

In two new studies, scientists analysed historical cholera samples from across the globe. The team studied genetic data from over 1200 cholera samples, some dating back to the 1950s.

The researchers focused on Africa and Latin America, due to the large epidemics that have occurred in those regions. The seventh pandemic of cholera first came to Africa in 1970, and Africa has since become the continent most affected by the disease. Cholera appeared in Latin America in 1991, after an absence of 100 years.

The team found that 7PET strains from Asia were repeatedly introduced into two main regions of Africa: West Africa and East/Southern Africa.

“Our results show that multiple new versions of 7PET bacteria have entered Africa since the 1970s. Once introduced, cholera outbreaks follow similar paths when spreading across that continent. The results give us a sense of where we can target specific regions of Africa for improved surveillance and control.”

François-Xavier Weill, first author on the African study and principal investigator from the Institut Pasteur

Scientists also investigated the evolution of antibiotic resistance in cholera. The team found that all recent introductions of cholera bacteria into Africa were already resistant to antibiotics. Using the genomic data they were able to track the source of the antibiotic resistance back to South Asia.

In Latin America, the team not only focused on the 7PET strains that cause epidemics, but other strains of Vibrio cholerae that cause sporadic low level disease. This allowed the researchers to uncover that different strains of Vibrio cholerae can be assigned different risks for causing large outbreaks. This has significant implications for cholera control efforts world-wide.

“Our data show that when a 7PET pandemic strain enters into Latin America from elsewhere, it can cause massive epidemics, like those seen in Peru in the 1990s and Haiti in 2010. However, we now know that other strains already in this region can still make people sick, but seem to not have this epidemic potential. Knowing which strain is which allows for an appropriate public health response from regional or national governments.”

Daryl Domman, first author on the Latin American study from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

“These findings have implications for the control of cholera pandemics. We are now getting a real sense of how cholera is moving across the globe, and with that information we can inform improved control strategies as well as basic science to better understand how a simple bacterium continues to pose such a threat to human health.”

Professor Nick Thomson, senior author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

Notes to Editors
  • Genomic history of the seventh pandemic of cholera in Africa.

    Weill FX, Domman D, Njamkepo E, Tarr C, Rauzier J et al.

    Science (New York, N.Y.) 2017;358;6364;785-789

  • Integrated view ofVibrio choleraein the Americas.

    Domman D, Quilici ML, Dorman MJ, Njamkepo E, Mutreja A et al.

    Science (New York, N.Y.) 2017;358;6364;789-793

About Cholera:

Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal disease caused by ingesting food or water contaminated with the bacterium, Vibrio cholerae. Some people develop water diarrhoea with severe dehydration, which can lead to death if left untreated. The disease spreads between humans in areas with inadequate access to clean water and sanitation. http://www.who.int/cholera/en/

* http://www.who.int/features/2017/cholera-overview/en/

** http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2017/partners-reduce-cholera/en/


Study 1 – Institut Pasteur and the Institut Pasteur International Network, the Institut de Veille Sanitaire, French government’s Investissement d’Avenir programme (Laboratoire d’Excellence), the Fondation Le Roch-Les Mousquetaires, Wellcome (grant 098051), Indian Council of Medical Research

Study 2 – Wellcome (grant 098051), Institut Pasteur, Santé Publique France, French government’s Investissement d’Avenir programme (Laboratoire d’Excellence)

Selected Websites
Science in the time of choleraStoriesScience in the time of cholera
Although cholera is commonly thought to be a disease of the Victorian era, it is still a significant problem in many areas of the modern world. Genomics research is helping to bring us closer to understanding how we may eliminate it once and for all.

What are infectious diseases?FactsWhat are infectious diseases?
Infectious diseases are caused by microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites and can spread between individuals.

What is antibiotic resistance?FactsWhat is antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic resistance is when bacteria develop the ability to survive exposure to antibiotics designed to kill them or stop their growth.

My career in genomics: antibiotic resistanceVideoMy career in genomics: antibiotic resistance
In this film Christine Boinett talks about her research looking at antibiotic resistance in bacteria. This is one of a series of films providing a unique insight into different careers in the field of genomics.

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