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Can J Microbiol. 2008 Jul;54(7):509-24. doi: 10.1139/w08-039.

Protection of waterborne pathogens by higher organisms in drinking water: a review.

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Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal, Department of Civil, Geologic and Mining Engineering, P.O. Box 6079, Succ. Centre Ville, Montreal, QC H3C3A7, Canada.


Higher organisms are ubiquitous in surface waters, and some species can proliferate in granular filters of water treatment plants and colonize distribution systems. Meanwhile, some waterborne pathogens are known to maintain viability inside amoebae or nematodes. The well-documented case of Legionella replication within amoebae is only one example of a bacterial pathogen that can be amplified inside the vacuoles of protozoa and then benefit from the protection of a resistant structure that favours its transport and persistence through water systems. Yet the role of most zooplankton organisms (rotifers, copepods, cladocerans) in pathogen transmission through drinking water remains poorly understood, since their capacity to digest waterborne pathogens has not been well characterized to date. This review aims at (i) evaluating the scientific observations of diverse associations between superior organisms and pathogenic microorganisms in a drinking water perspective and (ii) identifying the missing data that impede the establishment of cause-and-effect relationships that would permit a better appreciation of the sanitary risk arising from such associations. Additional studies are needed to (i) document the occurrence of invertebrate-associated pathogens in relevant field conditions, such as distribution systems; (ii) assess the fate of microorganisms ingested by higher organisms in terms of viability and (or) infectivity; and (iii) study the impact of internalization by zooplankton on pathogen resistance to water disinfection processes, including advanced treatments such as UV disinfection.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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