Fasting and postprandial stomach acid production were low in 16 of 37 Bangalees convalescing from cholera or non-vibrio cholera. Gastric juice of hypochlorhydric patients did not kill cholera vibrios in vitro, whereas that from normochlorhydric patients rapidly killed vibrios in concentrations up to 10(10)/ml. To determine whether hypoacidity resulted from cholera or was a common predisposing factor, basal and betazole-hydrochloride-stimulated acid production were measured before and after cholera in a second group of patients consisting of American volunteers participating in a vaccine development programme. Cholera did not alter the stomach acid secretion of American volunteers, but low precholera basal acid production predispose to severe cholera. The results indicate that hypochlorhydria observed in convalescent Bangalee cholera patients is not caused by cholera, and must therefore have preceded it. Idiopathic tropical hypochlorhydria may be a major factor accounting for the high incidence of diarrhoea due to acid-sensitive pathogens in developing countries.