Vibrio cholerae typically contains a prophage that carries the genes encoding the cholera toxin, which is responsible for the major clinical symptoms of the disease. In recent years, new pathogenic variants of V. cholerae have emerged and spread throughout many Asian and African countries. These variants display a mixture of phenotypic and genotypic traits from the two main biotypes (known as 'classical' and 'El Tor'), suggesting that they are genetic hybrids. Classical and El Tor biotypes have been the most epidemiologically successful cholera strains during the past century, and it is believed that the new variants (which we call here 'atypical El Tor') are likely to develop successfully in a manner similar to these biotypes. Here, we describe recent advances in our understanding of the epidemiology and evolution of the atypical El Tor strains.