How long can cholera bacterium survive inside a dead host? Can they remain dormant in such conditions?


On a hill not far from where I live, there was a hospital operating since 16th until 19th century, for cholera patients, and a cemetery for those, who didn't make it. It was closed in 1st half of 19th century and until 20th century not even ruins of the hospital remained; the gravestones got lost under a layer of soil.

Currently, the area is being built over. Large amounts of soil are being excavated for foundations and basements of new houses. Rainwater falling on the piles of excavated soil floats down through driveways, backyards and gardens of houses down the hill, including my own.

Should I worry?

  • $\begingroup$ What is the climate of the region that you are talking about? Is the soil generally moist? $\endgroup$
    Mar 5, 2015 at 14:58
  • $\begingroup$ Moderate climate, central-eastern Europe, the soil is common clay loam (I may be wrong on this); the hill top area made persistent groundwater non-issue, but the weather is rather on rainy side and the soil is poorly transpiring water and retains it, remaining moist most of the time. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Mar 5, 2015 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ Do you, or your community, readily use ground water for drinking, cooking, or cleaning of food preparation sites? I'm inclined to think the "Should I worry" part of the question is off topic for medical advise, but the general cholera question is a good one. $\endgroup$
    – Atl LED
    Mar 12, 2015 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ @AtlLED: We have gardens with fruits and vegetables. Our pets run free in the gardens. Sometimes we wear sandals, exposing any tiny injuries on feet to the moisture in the grass. I can easily imagine children picking up food that fell on moist ground and eating it, disregarding hygiene. Also, during rain we inhale droplets of water aroused from the ground by rainfall. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Mar 26, 2015 at 12:15
  • $\begingroup$ None of what you mentioned is likely to have a infectious dose of v. cholerae. It's more a problem of directly using the water in your day to day life. $\endgroup$
    – Atl LED
    Mar 26, 2015 at 16:42

1 Answer 1


No, I don't think so.

Mostly estuaries (brackish water) and marine biofilms on submerged surfaces are a reservoir for Vibrio cholerae. Vibrio cholerae is isolated from rivers, creeks, washes, irrigation ditches, hulls of ships, etc. (Indeed, cholera spread rapidly throughout the world after the 1817 epidemic, largely due to the inadvertent transport of contaminated bilge water, mainly from British ships.)

Transmission is by the fecal–oral route. Infections are particularly common after ingesting contaminated water or food. Cases are occasionally seen in people who have eaten raw or undercooked shellfish, particularly oysters, from contaminated waters. V. cholerae is excreted in the feces and vomitus. Viable organisms can be found in feces for up to 50 days, on glass for up to a month, on coins for a week, in soil or dust for up to 16 days and on fingertips for 1 to 2 hours. Bacteria survive well in water and may remain viable in shellfish, algae or plankton in coastal regions.

In 1855, a wave of cholera hit London. Thousands became ill and died before John Snow identified the Broad Street water pump as the single point source of that outbreak. Today, patrons of the John Snow Pub (built on the site) can enjoy local ale, and more importantly, a glass of crystal clear, pathogen-free water.

V. cholerae [is] an autochthonous aquatic bacterium rather than a human pathogen that is a transient resident of the aquatic environment. V. cholerae has over 200 serogroups, with O1 and O139 being the causative agents of cholera, due to their carriage of the genes encoding cholera toxin (CT) and the toxin co-regulated pilus. ...[A]ssociations with the human host is only one small aspect of the V. cholerae life cycle and is not necessary for environmental persistence. ...[T]his bacterium is a cosmopolitan aquatic species that is capable of causing illness in humans.

Vibrio cholerae attachment is mediated by pili, which promote surface attachment and subsequent biofilm formation. It is rather difficult to believe that an aquatic biofilm was preserved on the hill for all those years, even in a dormant stage.

...they could transform into a unique dormant stage that was able to survive for months in the sediment of the estuary. ...These exciting new data enabled investigators to now integrate information regarding the seasonal nature of events surrounding an outbreak in populations living near estuaries.

I have found nowhere that the dormant stage can occur outside of water.

Environmental reservoirs and mechanisms of persistence of Vibrio cholerae

Medical Ecology Main Page


Something goofy going on with these, sorry.


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