Ocean Warming and Spread of Pathogenic Vibrios in the Aquatic Environment


Vibrios are among the most common bacteria that inhabit surface waters throughout the world and are responsible for a number of severe infections both in humans and animals. Several reports recently showed that human Vibrio illnesses are increasing worldwide including fatal acute diarrheal diseases, such as cholera, gastroenteritis, wound infections, and septicemia. Many scientists believe this increase may be associated with global warming and rise in sea surface temperature (SST), although not enough evidence is available to support a causal link between emergence of Vibrio infections and climate warming. The effect of increased SST in promoting spread of vibrios in coastal and brackish waters is considered a causal factor explaining this trend. Field and laboratory studies carried out over the past 40 years supported this hypothesis, clearly showing temperature promotes Vibrio growth and persistence in the aquatic environment. Most recently, a long-term retrospective microbiological study carried out in the coastal waters of the southern North Sea provided the first experimental evidence for a positive and significant relationship between SST and Vibrio occurrence over a multidecadal time scale. As a future challenge, macroecological studies of the effects of ocean warming on Vibrio persistence and spread in the aquatic environment over large spatial and temporal scales would conclusively support evidence acquired to date combined with studies of the impact of global warming on epidemiologically relevant variables, such as host susceptibility and exposure. Assessing a causal link between ongoing climate change and enhanced growth and spread of vibrios and related illness is expected to improve forecast and mitigate future outbreaks associated with these pathogens.

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Support of the National Institutes of Health (Grant no. 2RO1A1039129-11A2-NIH) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Oceans and Human Health Initiative (Grant no. S0660009) is gratefully acknowledged. This work was also supported by the Italian Ministry for Universities and Scientific and Technological Research (PRIN project) and by grants from Genoa University.

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Correspondence to Carla Pruzzo.

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Vezzulli, L., Colwell, R.R. & Pruzzo, C. Ocean Warming and Spread of Pathogenic Vibrios in the Aquatic Environment. Microb Ecol 65, 817–825 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00248-012-0163-2

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  • Vibrio
  • Cholera
  • Ocean Warming
  • Vibrio Species
  • VBNC State