Pandemic pharmaceutical dosing effects on wastewater treatment: no adaptation of activated sludge bacteria to degrade the antiviral drug oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) and loss of nutrient removal performance

FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2011 Feb;315(1):17-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6968.2010.02163.x. Epub 2010 Dec 6.


The 2009-2010 influenza pandemic saw many people treated with antivirals and antibiotics. High proportions of both classes of drugs are excreted and enter wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) in biologically active forms. To date, there has been no study into the potential for influenza pandemic-scale pharmaceutical use to disrupt WWTP function. Furthermore, there is currently little indication as to whether WWTP microbial consortia can degrade antiviral neuraminidase inhibitors when exposed to pandemic-scale doses. In this study, we exposed an aerobic granular sludge sequencing batch reactor, operated for enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR), to a simulated influenza-pandemic dosing of antibiotics and antivirals for 8 weeks. We monitored the removal of the active form of Tamiflu(®), oseltamivir carboxylate (OC), bacterial community structure, granule structure and changes in EBPR and nitrification performance. There was little removal of OC by sludge and no evidence that the activated sludge community adapted to degrade OC. There was evidence of changes to the bacterial community structure and disruption to EBPR and nitrification during and after high-OC dosing. This work highlights the potential for the antiviral contamination of receiving waters and indicates the risk of destabilizing WWTP microbial consortia as a result of high concentrations of bioactive pharmaceuticals during an influenza pandemic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / metabolism
  • Antiviral Agents / analysis
  • Antiviral Agents / metabolism*
  • Bacteria / chemistry
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Bioreactors
  • Microbial Consortia
  • Models, Biological
  • Oseltamivir / analogs & derivatives*
  • Oseltamivir / analysis
  • Oseltamivir / metabolism
  • Pandemics
  • Particle Size
  • Phosphorus / metabolism
  • Sewage / chemistry*
  • Sewage / microbiology*
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid / methods
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / metabolism*
  • Water Purification


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Antiviral Agents
  • Sewage
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Oseltamivir
  • Phosphorus
  • oseltamivir carboxylate