High power view of a smear made from a culture of Vibrio cholerae bacteria


What is cholera, and how is it affected by climate change?

Cholera is a bacterial infection most commonly caused by food and water contaminated with the Vibrio cholerae bacterium. It is common in the aftermath of extreme weather, but its spread also depends on the persistence of cholera-causing bacteria in ocean ecosystems.

Research in Bangladesh has established that the bacteria’s survival is linked to surface ocean temperature, sea level and the presence of certain marine organisms. Warm seas are therefore contributing to their spread. Globally, cholera incidence has increased steadily since 2005, according to World Health Organization figures. 

One small ray of hope is that this knowledge will improve our ability to predict future cholera epidemics. Remote sensing, for example, can be used to measure sea surface temperatures and sea levels, and thereby identify areas of risk.

Lead image:

High power view of a smear made from a culture of Vibrio cholerae bacteria.

Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine courtesy of A Stich/Wellcome Images CC BY NC ND


Further reading

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Health and Climate Change’ in January 2009 and reviewed and updated in September 2014.

Microbiology, Ecology and environment, Health, infection and disease
Health and Climate Change
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development