Waterborne Norovirus Outbreaks in Two Undisinfected Groundwater Wells, Finland

Kauppinen A, Pitkänen T, Miettinen IT. Persistent Norovirus Contamination of Groundwater Supplies in Two Waterborne Outbreaks. Food and environmental virology. 2017 Oct 11. doi: 10.1007/s12560-017-9320-6.

Microbiological contamination of groundwater supplies causes waterborne outbreaks worldwide. In this study, two waterborne outbreaks related to microbiological contamination of groundwater supplies are described. Analyses of pathogenic human enteric viruses (noroviruses and adenoviruses), fecal bacteria (Campylobacter spp. and Salmonella spp.), and indicator microbes (E. coli, coliform bacteria, intestinal enterococci, Clostridium perfringens, heterotrophic plate count, somatic and F-specific coliphages) were conducted in order to reveal the cause of the outbreaks and to examine the effectiveness of the implemented management measures. Moreover, the long-term persistence of noro- and adenovirus genomes was investigated. Noroviruses were detected in water samples from both outbreaks after the intrusion of wastewater into the drinking water sources. In the outbreak I, the removal efficiency of norovirus genome (3.0 log10 removal) in the sand filter of onsite wastewater treatment system (OWTS) and during the transport through the soil into the groundwater well was lower than the removal efficiencies of E. coli, coliform bacteria, intestinal enterococci, and spores of C. perfringens (6.2, 6.0, > 5.9, and > 4.8 log10 removals, respectively). In the outbreak II, cleaning of massively contaminated groundwater well and drinking water distribution network proved challenging, and noro- and adenovirus genomes were detected up to 3 months (108 days). The long-term persistence study showed that noro- and adenovirus genomes can remain detectable in the contaminated water samples up to 1277 and 1343 days, respectively. This study highlights the transport and survival properties of enteric viruses in the environment explaining their potency to cause waterborne outbreaks.

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