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Journal of Water and Health Vol 08 No 1 pp 71–82 © IWA Publishing 2010 doi:10.2166/wh.2009.129

Free-living amoebae, Legionella and Mycobacterium in tap water supplied by a municipal drinking water utility in the USA

Francine Marciano-Cabral, Melissa Jamerson and Edna S. Kaneshiro

Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Richmond VA, 23298, USA Tel.: +1 804 828-9742 Fax: +1 804 828-8220 E-mail: fmcabral@vcu.edu
Department of Biological Science, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Ohio, 45221-0006, USA


Legionella and Mycobacterium can proliferate within free-living amoebae (FLA) where they are protected from disinfectants at concentrations that can kill bacteria but not protozoa. Despite effective treatment of drinking water, microbes can enter water utility distribution systems (DS) and hence the plumbing within building premises. Additionally, biofilm formation may account for the persistence of microbes in the DS. In the present study a domestic water tap in north-central United States (USA) was sampled in March and September 2007 and analysed for FLA, Legionella and Mycobacterium. Identification of organisms was determined by growth on specific culture media, light and electron microscopy, and amplification of DNA probes specific for each organism. In both the spring and fall samples, amoebae, Legionella and Mycobacterium were detected. However, Acanthamoeba was prominent in the spring sample whereas Vahlkampfia and Naegleria were the amoebae detected in the autumn. Bacterial proliferation in laboratory cultures was noticeably enhanced in the presence of amoebae and biofilms rapidly formed in mixed amoebae and bacteria cultures. It is hypothesized that temperature affected the dynamics of FLA species population structure within the DS and that pathogenic bacteria that proliferate within FLA, which are themselves opportunistic pathogens, pose dual public health risks.

Keywords: Acanthamoeba; cysts; Naegleria; opportunistic infections; trophozoites; Vahlkampfia

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