BACKGROUND The seventh pandemic of Vibrio cholerae unexpectedly reached the coast of Peru in 1991, causing an explosive emergence of infections throughout the American continents. The origin and routes of dissemination are as yet unknown. A new Vibrio epidemic arose in 1997 in South America (northern Chile) when the pandemic clone of Vibrio parahaemolyticus was for the fist time detected outside of Asia. These 2 cases were concurrent with 2 episodes of El Niño. METHODS We carried out a survey of records of V. parahaemolyticus infection and of strains existing in the Instituto Nacional de Salud of Peru between 1994 and 2005. Association between the El Niño event and the V. parahaemolyticus disease was analyzed through generalized additive models applied to time-series data with negative binomial response, selecting some oceanographic factors distinctive of the movement of the El Niño waters. RESULTS Epidemiologic data and laboratory investigations of the strains showed that V. parahaemolyticus infections caused by the pandemic clone emerged in the coasts of Peru linked to the 1997 El Niño episode. The epidemic dissemination of this clone matched the expansion and dynamics of the poleward propagation and the receding of the El Niño waters. This pattern was similar to previously reported onset of cholera epidemic in 1991. CONCLUSIONS These findings identify the El Niño episodes as a reliable vehicle for the introduction and propagation of Vibrio pathogens in South America. The movement of oceanic waters seems to be one of the driving forces of the spread of Vibrio diseases.