Monitoring Coliphages To Reduce Waterborne Infectious Disease Transmission In The One Water Framework

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International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health


Coastal waters, surface waters, and groundwater are impacted by wastewater and stormwater discharges, as well as agricultural flows containing animal waste and nutrients. A One Water approach posits that components of the water system have overlapping and interactive impacts on other aspects of the system, for which a comprehensive approach to water management is needed to further inform public health decisions. Current frameworks for monitoring wastewater effluent and recreational surface waters include the measurement of fecal indicator bacteria. Although viral pathogens are likely to be transported further and can survive longer than bacterial pathogens, virus monitoring is not required for recreational waters. A scientific consensus is emerging that the use of bacterial indicators alone does not account for nor represent the health risks associated with viral pathogens due to the differences in the fate and transport of bacterial versus viral pathogens in wastewater treatment, surface water, and groundwater. Furthermore, it is likely that the public health risk associated with these waterborne pathogens is variable and diverse. For example, under drought conditions, effluents of urban water systems can comprise most of the dry weather flow in downstream waters, which are often used as sources of drinking water. This de facto reuse could increase viral risk for the end users of this water. A One Water approach will aid in protecting the health of the public from waterborne pathogens, regardless of where those pathogens entered the water system. In this review, we assert that monitoring for fecal indicator viruses can complement the monitoring of bacterial indicators, thereby improving public health protections. Bacteriophages have the strongest research foundation and correlation with viral pathogens along with some prediction power for risk to human health. Methods for detecting and quantifying coliphages are briefly summarized, as are challenges in the implementation of testing. Key knowledge gaps and research priorities are discussed so that the potential value and limitations of coliphage monitoring can be better addressed and understood.

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