Environmental (Saprozoic) Pathogens of Engineered Water Systems: Understanding Their Ecology for Risk Assessment and Management

  • Ashbolt N
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Major waterborne (enteric) pathogens are relatively well understood and treatment controls are effective when well managed. However, water-based, saprozoic pathogens that grow within engineered water systems (primarily within biofilms/sediments) cannot be controlled by water treatment alone prior to entry into water distribution and other engineered water systems. Growth within biofilms or as in the case of Legionella pneumophila, primarily within free-living protozoa feeding on biofilms, results from competitive advantage. Meaning, to understand how to manage water-based pathogen diseases (a sub-set of saprozoses) we need to understand the microbial ecology of biofilms; with key factors including biofilm bacterial diversity that influence amoebae hosts and members antagonistic to water-based pathogens, along with impacts from biofilm substratum, water temperature, flow conditions and disinfectant residual—all control variables. Major saprozoic pathogens covering viruses, bacteria, fungi and free-living protozoa are listed, yet today most of the recognized health burden from drinking waters is driven by legionellae, non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) and, to a lesser extent, Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In developing best management practices for engineered water systems based on hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) or water safety plan (WSP) approaches, multi-factor control strategies, based on quantitative microbial risk assessments need to be developed, to reduce disease from largely opportunistic, water-based pathogens.




Ashbolt, N. (2015). Environmental (Saprozoic) Pathogens of Engineered Water Systems: Understanding Their Ecology for Risk Assessment and Management. Pathogens, 4(2), 390–405. https://doi.org/10.3390/pathogens4020390

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