Mycobacteria in drinking water distribution systems: ecology and significance for human health

FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2005 Nov;29(5):911-34. doi: 10.1016/j.femsre.2005.02.001. Epub 2005 Feb 19.


In contrast to the notorious pathogens Mycobacterium tuberculosis and M. leprae, the majority of the mycobacterial species described to date are generally not considered as obligate human pathogens. The natural reservoirs of these non-primary pathogenic mycobacteria include aquatic and terrestrial environments. Under certain circumstances, e.g., skin lesions, pulmonary or immune dysfunctions and chronic diseases, these environmental mycobacteria (EM) may cause disease. EM such as M. avium, M. kansasii, and M. xenopi have frequently been isolated from drinking water and hospital water distribution systems. Biofilm formation, amoeba-associated lifestyle, and resistance to chlorine have been recognized as important factors that contribute to the survival, colonization and persistence of EM in water distribution systems. Although the presence of EM in tap water has been linked to nosocomial infections and pseudo-infections, it remains unclear if these EM provide a health risk for immunocompromised people, in particular AIDS patients. In this regard, control strategies based on maintenance of an effective disinfectant residual and low concentration of nutrients have been proposed to keep EM numbers to a minimum in water distribution systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amoeba
  • Animals
  • Biofilms / growth & development
  • Disinfection / methods
  • Ecosystem
  • Humans
  • Mycobacterium Infections, Nontuberculous / microbiology
  • Nontuberculous Mycobacteria / classification
  • Nontuberculous Mycobacteria / growth & development
  • Nontuberculous Mycobacteria / isolation & purification*
  • Nontuberculous Mycobacteria / pathogenicity*
  • Water Microbiology*
  • Water Supply*