Seasonal epidemics of cholera in Bangladesh are self-limited in nature, presumably due to phage predation of the causative Vibrio cholerae during the late stage of an epidemic, when cholera patients excrete large quantities of phage in their stools. To further understand the mechanisms involved, we studied the effect of phage on the infectivity and survival of V. cholerae shed in stools. The 50% infectious dose of stool vibrios in infant mice was ∼10-fold higher when the stools contained a phage (1.8 × 103 to 5.7 × 106 PFU/ml) than when stools did not contain a detectable phage. In competition assays in mice using a reference strain and phage-negative cholera stools, the infectivity of biofilm-like clumped cells was 3.9- to 115.9-fold higher than that of the corresponding planktonic cells. However, the difference in infectivity of these two cell populations in phage-positive stools was significantly less than that in phage-negative stools (P = 0.0006). Coculture of a phage and V. cholerae or dilutions of phage-positive cholera stools in nutrient medium, but not in environmental water, caused rapid emergence of phage-resistant derivatives of the bacteria, and these derivatives lost their O1 antigen. In cholera stools and in intestinal contents of mice prechallenged with a mixture of V. cholerae and phage, the bacteria remained completely phage susceptible, suggesting that the intestinal environment did not favor the emergence of phage-resistant derivatives that lost the O1 antigen. Our results indicate that phages lead to the collapse of epidemics by modulating the required infectious dose of the bacteria. Furthermore, the dominance of phage-resistant variants due to the bactericidal selective mechanism occurs rarely in natural settings, and the emerging variants are thus unable to sustain the ongoing epidemic.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Infectious Diseases