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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Nov 27;104(48):19091-6. Epub 2007 Nov 16.

Complexity of rice-water stool from patients with Vibrio cholerae plays a role in the transmission of infectious diarrhea.

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  • 1Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology, Tufts University School of Medicine, 136 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA 02111, USA.


At the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, one-half of the rice-water stool samples that were culture-positive for Vibrio cholerae did not contain motile V. cholerae by standard darkfield microscopy and were defined as darkfield-negative (DF(-)). We evaluated the host and microbial factors associated with DF status, as well as the impact of DF status on transmission. Viable counts of V. cholerae in DF(-) stools were three logs lower than in DF(+) stools, although DF(-) and DF(+) stools had similar direct counts of V. cholerae by microscopy. In DF(-) samples, non-V. cholerae bacteria outnumbered V. cholerae 10:1. Lytic V. cholerae bacteriophage were present in 90% of DF(-) samples compared with 35% of DF(+) samples, suggesting that bacteriophage may limit culture-positive patients from producing DF(+) stools. V. cholerae in DF(-) and DF(+) samples were found both planktonically and in distinct nonplanktonic populations; the distribution of organisms between these compartments did not differ appreciably between DF(-) and DF(+) stools. This biology may impact transmission because epidemiological data suggested that household contacts of a DF(+) index case were at greater risk of infection with V. cholerae. We propose a model in which V. cholerae multiply in the small intestine to produce a fluid niche that is dominated by V. cholerae. If lytic phage are present, viable counts of V. cholerae drop, stools become DF(-), other microorganisms bloom, and cholera transmission is reduced.

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