Cholera is an ancient disease that continues to cause epidemic and pandemic disease despite ongoing efforts to limit its spread. Mathematical models provide one means of assessing the utility of various proposed interventions. However, cholera models that have been developed to date have had limitations, suggesting that there are basic elements of cholera transmission that we still do not understand.
Methods and Findings
Recent laboratory findings suggest that passage of Vibrio cholerae O1 Inaba El Tor through the gastrointestinal tract results in a short-lived, hyperinfectious state of the organism that decays in a matter of hours into a state of lower infectiousness. Incorporation of this hyperinfectious state into our disease model provides a much better fit with the observed epidemic pattern of cholera. These findings help to substantiate the clinical relevance of laboratory observations regarding the hyperinfectious state, and underscore the critical importance of human-to-human versus environment-to-human transmission in the generation of epidemic and pandemic disease.
To have maximal impact on limiting epidemic spread of cholera, interventions should be targeted toward minimizing risk of transmission of the short-lived, hyperinfectious form of toxigenic Vibrio cholerae. The possibility of comparable hyperinfectious states in other major epidemic diseases also needs to be evaluated and, as appropriate, incorporated into models of disease prevention.