Microbiol Spectr. 2016 Aug;4(4). doi: 10.1128/microbiolspec.PoH-0012-2015.


Cholera is an acute disease of the gastrointestinal tract caused by Vibrio cholerae. Cholera was localized in Asia until 1817, when a first pandemic spread from India to several other regions of the world. After this appearance, six additional major pandemics occurred during the 19th and 20th centuries, the latest of which originated in Indonesia in the 1960s and is still ongoing. In 1854, a cholera outbreak in Soho, London, was investigated by the English physician John Snow (1813 to 1858). He described the time course of the outbreak, managed to understand its routes of transmission, and suggested effective measures to stop its spread, giving rise to modern infectious disease epidemiology. The germ responsible for cholera was discovered twice: first by the Italian physician Filippo Pacini during an outbreak in Florence, Italy, in 1854, and then independently by Robert Koch in India in 1883, thus favoring the germ theory over the miasma theory of disease. Unlike many other infectious diseases, such as plague, smallpox, and poliomyelitis, cholera persists as a huge public health problem worldwide, even though there are effective methods for its prevention and treatment. The main reasons for its persistence are socioeconomic rather than purely biological; cholera flourishes where there are unsatisfactory hygienic conditions and where a breakdown of already fragile sanitation and health infrastructure occurs because of natural disasters or humanitarian crises.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cholera / epidemiology*
  • Cholera / history
  • Cholera / therapy
  • Cholera / transmission
  • Communicable Disease Control / methods
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious
  • Global Health
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Pandemics*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Vibrio cholerae / isolation & purification*