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Vibrio spp (cholerae, vulnificus, parahaemolyticus) Biological Agent Reference Sheet (BARS)

Updated November 30th, 2023
Disclaimer: Risk group, biosafety level, and all other precautions noted here are subject to change after a risk assessment by EHS.


Agent Type Risk Group Biosafety Level Animal Housing Biosafety Level
Bacteria  RG-2 BSL-2 ABSL-2

Agent Characteristics 

Risk Group: RG-2 associated with human disease, rarely serious; preventive or therapeutic interventions often available.

Agent Type: Bacteria 

DescriptionVibrio cholerae is a Gram-negative, non-spore forming, curved rod bacterium. It has a single polar flagellum as well as pili and it is very motile. Some strains of V. cholerae cause the disease cholera. Serogroups O1 and O139 are primarily responsible for cholera outbreaks. Pathogenic serogroups produce cholera toxin, while nonpathogenic strains may or may not produce this toxin. Symptoms of infection include abrupt onset of watery diarrhea (a grey and cloudy liquid), occasional vomiting, and abdominal cramps. Dehydration ensues thirst, dry mucous membranes, decreased skin turgor, sunken eyes, hypotension, weak or absent radial pulse, tachycardia, tachypnea, hoarse voice, oliguria, cramps, renal failure, seizures, somnolence, coma and death.

Host Range: V. cholerae: This agent is known to infect or be carried by humans, water birds, shellfish, fish, and herbivores

Host Shedding: Feces

Route of Exposure to Humans: Direct contact, Mucous Membranes, Animal Bites, Ingestion, Percutaneous

Infectious Dose: The infectious dose ranges between 106 and 1011 ingested vibrios (V. cholerae). The infectious dose depends on gastric acidity (lower acidity levels reduce the number of vibrios required for infection).

Incubation Period: Ranges from a few hours to 5 days for symptoms to appear after infection

Health Hazards

Signs and symptoms of infection may include:

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (i.e. loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea)
  • Neurological symptoms (i.e. loss of sensation, ataxia)
  • Reproductive Health concerns (i.e. abortion, fetal abnormalities) 

Immunizations: None available                             Prophylaxis*: None available

*Formal medical advice is obtained during medical consultations with Cornell Health or primary healthcare provider as needed.

Agent Viability 

Survival Outside Host Disinfection

Cholera can survive in well water for 7.5 ± 1.9 days and the El Tor biotype can survive 19.3 ± 5.1 days. The bacterium can survive in a wide variety of foods and
drinks for 1-14 days at room temperature and 1-35 days in an ice box. It has also been found on fomites at room temperature for 1-7 days.

 1:10 bleach Dilution

70% Ethanol

2-5% phenol; 4% formaldehyde; 2% glutaraldehyde; 0.16% iodine; Spor-lenz/Ygiene

For more guidance on disinfection see: disinfectant selection.

Laboratory Hazards 

  • Handling of sharps (needles, scalpels, microtome blades, broken glass, etc.)
  • Splash/droplet-creating activities (shaking incubators, liquid culturing, mechanical pipetting)
  • Equipment contamination

Laboratory Acquired Infection (LAI) History V. cholerae: 12 cases of infection with 4 deaths were reported up to 1979. The deaths were associated with mouth pipetting, contact with infectious feces and contaminated laboratory laundry. V. parahaemolyticus: The first laboratory-acquired infection was recorded in 1972 when a worker was subculturing different strains of the bacteria, and another infection was reported in 2002, and was caused through handling experimentally infected abalones.

Laboratory Handling Guidelines 

Laboratory Biosafety Level (BSL): BSL-2

Attenuated Strain Alternatives: Regardless of the high infectious dose, many attenuated strains exist and are recommended, especially while becoming familiar with laboratory work with V. cholerae or for new researchers lacking microbiological hands on experience.


Lab Engineering Controls Personal Protective Equipment
  • Eye Protection
  • Single gloves
  • Snap-front lab coat with cinch cuffs

Waste Management: Regulated Medical Waste (RMW)

Shipping Guidance: Refer to EHS Biological Materials Shipping 

Animal Vivarium Guidance

Animal Housing Biosafety Level (ABSL): ABSL-2

Animal Biosecurity: Experimental animals are housed separately

Perform InoculationsBiosafety Cabinet, Cage Changing station

Change CagesBiosafety Cabinet, Cage Changing Station

Exposure and Spill Procedures 

Mucous Membranes: Flush eyes, mouth, or nose for 15 minutes at an eyewash station.See: responding to exposures.

Other Exposures: Wash with soap and water for 15 minutes (open wounds, sores, etc.) or a minimum of 20 seconds for areas with intact skin. See:  responding to exposures.

Small Spills: Notify others working in the lab. Evacuate area and allow 30 minutes for aerosols to settle. Don appropriate PPE. Cover area of the spill with paper towels and apply disinfectant, working from the perimeter toward the center. Allow 30 minutes of contact time before disposal and cleanup of spill materials. See:  spill cleanup

Large Spills: Request assistance from the EHS Spill Team by calling CUPD dispatch. Call 911 from a campus phone or 607-255-1111 from a mobile phone.

Incident Reporting: Immediately report the incident to supervisor and complete the EHS online injury/illness report as soon as possible.

Medical Follow-Up:

  • For students, seek medical attention at Cornell Health or local primary care provider. Call Cornell Health at 607-255-5155 (24-hour phone consultation line) or a local urgent care. 
  • For faculty and staff, seek medical evaluation with a local primary care provider or urgent care. Cornell Health does not see employees for post-exposure care. 
  • Emergencies: Call 911 from a campus phone or 607-255-1111 from a mobile phone. 
Cornell EHS would like to thank Emory University for the use of their Biological Agent Reference Sheet (BARS) format and some content. 

More Information


  1. Vibrio Species Causing Vibriosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. Cholera - Vibrio cholerae infection. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  
  3. Vibrio cholerae. Pathogen Safety Data Sheet. Public Health Agency of Canada.