The endemic and seasonal nature of cholera depends upon the survival of Vibrio cholerae 01 in a viable but not necessarily culturable state in ecologic niches in aquatic environments during interepidemic periods. To understand the ecology of V. cholerae it is necessary to know which aquatic ecosystems can harbor it and thus contribute to the endemic presence of cholera in Latin America. This article presents a summary of the ecology of V. cholerae 01, organized according to the abiotic and biotic factors that are relevant to the microbe's survival in aquatic environments. This pathogen finds favorable conditions in waters characterized by moderate salinity, high nutrient content, warm temperature, neutral or slightly alkaline pH, and the presence of aquatic macrophages, phytoplankton, zooplankton, fish, mollusks, and crustaceans. These ecologic conditions are typical of estuaries and coastal swamps, and toxigenic V. cholerae 01 is now considered an autochthonous member of the microbial flora of these environments. The microorganism has also shown the ability to colonize freshwater ecosystems in its viable but not necessarily culturable form, if organic or inorganic substrates that favor its survival are available.
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