Vibrio cholerae O139: How great is the threat of a pandemic?
The emergence of the new strain Vibrio cholerae O139 and its rapid spread in Bangladesh and India together with its detection in several other countries, have raised the question whether this constitutes the beginning of the eighth pandemic of cholera, and if so, how large a threat it poses. In an attempt to answer this question, epidemic spread patterns of Vibrio cholerae O139 strain in Bangladesh were studied. Initially the epidemic moved quickly and affected the entire coastal and estuarine tidal plains of southern Bangladesh. In the flood plains of the northern regions it affected mostly the north‐eastern and north‐central areas, at a slower pace than in the southern areas. In the beginning the new strain totally displaced both biotypes (classic and El Tor) of Vibrio cholerae O1. Nearly 2 years after its initial detection, striking differences in the distribution of V. cholerae O139 and O1 were observed. In most northern areas, the new strain was replaced by V. cholerae O1, whereas in the southern coastal regions, the O139 strain continues to dominate epidemics. The study suggests that the O139 strain may become endemic in the coastal ecosystem. The threat of a pandemic, therefore, may not be as large as it first seemed.
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