Clin Microbiol Infect 2012; 18: 231–238
The cholera burden has grown strikingly during the past 4 years, and has spread to countries previously spared by this disease. The current spread has proved especially violent, as illustrated by the recent deadly epidemics around the Lake Chad Basin, in East Africa, and in Haiti. This onset of severe cholera epidemics is part of the overall dynamic of the current seventh cholera pandemic, composed of successive epidemic waves. The current wave is attributable to new atypical El Tor strains, which spread from the Bay of Bengal to Papua in the east, Africa, and the Caribbean Sea in the west, and caused hundreds of thousands of cases and thousands of deaths during each of the last 4 years. The particular severity of the resulting epidemics is partially attributable to the specific characteristics of the atypical El Tor strain involved. Besides the abilty of El Tor to spread easily, this strain is associated with more severe clinical findings, because of elevated levels of toxin secretion resulting from a genetic content originating from classical strains. Conversely, recent studies of these deadly outbreaks raised hope by illustrating their relationship with human-borne dissemination rather than with the resurgence of environmental strains. As human-borne dissemination can be more easily targeted than ubiquitous environmental contamination, accurate and comprehensive epidemiological studies are essential to better understand the dynamics of the disease and to optimize future cholera responses.