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Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2011 Nov;214(6):417-23. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2011.05.009. Epub 2011 Jun 22.

Biofilms in drinking water and their role as reservoir for pathogens.

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Biofilm Centre, University of Duisburg-Essen, Universit├Ątsstra├če 5, D-45141 Essen, Germany.


Most microorganisms on Earth live in various aggregates which are generally termed "biofilms". They are ubiquitous and represent the most successful form of life. They are the active agent in biofiltration and the carriers of the self-cleaning potential in soils, sediments and water. They are also common on surfaces in technical systems where they sometimes cause biofouling. In recent years it has become evident that biofilms in drinking water distribution networks can become transient or long-term habitats for hygienically relevant microorganisms. Important categories of these organisms include faecal indicator bacteria (e.g., Escherichia coli), obligate bacterial pathogens of faecal origin (e.g., Campylobacter spp.) opportunistic bacteria of environmental origin (e.g., Legionella spp., Pseudomonas aeruginosa), enteric viruses (e.g., adenoviruses, rotaviruses, noroviruses) and parasitic protozoa (e.g., Cryptosporidium parvum). These organisms can attach to preexisting biofilms, where they become integrated and survive for days to weeks or even longer, depending on the biology and ecology of the organism and the environmental conditions. There are indications that at least a part of the biofilm populations of pathogenic bacteria persists in a viable but non-culturable (VBNC) state and remains unnoticed by the methods appointed to their detection. Thus, biofilms in drinking water systems can serve as an environmental reservoir for pathogenic microorganisms and represent a potential source of water contamination, resulting in a potential health risk for humans if left unnoticed.

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