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Virol J. 2008 Oct 3;5:112. doi: 10.1186/1743-422X-5-112.

Torque teno virus: an improved indicator for viral pathogens in drinking waters.

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Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 100 Institute Road, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA 01609, USA.



Currently applied indicator organism systems, such as coliforms, are not fully protective of public health from enteric viruses in water sources. Waterborne disease outbreaks have occurred in systems that tested negative for coliforms, and positive coliform results do not necessarily correlate with viral risk. It is widely recognized that bacterial indicators do not co-occur exclusively with infectious viruses, nor do they respond in the same manner to environmental or engineered stressors. Thus, a more appropriate indicator of health risks from infectious enteric viruses is needed.


Torque teno virus is a small, non-enveloped DNA virus that likely exhibits similar transport characteristics to pathogenic enteric viruses. Torque teno virus is unique among enteric viral pathogens in that it appears to be ubiquitous in humans, elicits seemingly innocuous infections, and does not exhibit seasonal fluctuations or epidemic spikes. Torque teno virus is transmitted primarily via the fecal-oral route and can be assayed using rapid molecular techniques. We hypothesize that Torque teno virus is a more appropriate indicator of viral pathogens in drinking waters than currently used indicator systems based solely on bacteria.


To test the hypothesis, a multi-phased research approach is needed. First, a reliable Torque teno virus assay must be developed. A rapid, sensitive, and specific PCR method using established nested primer sets would be most appropriate for routine monitoring of waters. Because PCR detects both infectious and inactivated virus, an in vitro method to assess infectivity also is needed. The density and occurrence of Torque teno virus in feces, wastewater, and source waters must be established to define spatial and temporal stability of this potential indicator. Finally, Torque teno virus behavior through drinking water treatment plants must be determined with co-assessment of traditional indicators and enteric viral pathogens to assess whether correlations exist.


If substantiated, Torque teno virus could provide a completely new, reliable, and efficient indicator system for viral pathogen risk. This indicator would have broad application to drinking water utilities, watershed managers, and protection agencies and would provide a better means to assess viral risk and protect public health.

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