Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 20, Issue 6, pp 3550–3569 | Cite as

Human health implications of clinically relevant bacteria in wastewater habitats

  • Ana Rita Varela
  • Célia M. Manaia
Wastewater Reuse Applications and Contaminants of Emerging Concern (WRA & CEC 2012)


The objective of this review is to reflect on the multiple roles of bacteria in wastewater habitats with particular emphasis on their harmful potential for human health. Indigenous bacteria promote a series of biochemical and metabolic transformations indispensable to achieve wastewater treatment. Some of these bacteria may be pathogenic or harbour antibiotic resistance or virulence genes harmful for human health. Several chemical contaminants (heavy metals, disinfectants and antibiotics) may select these bacteria or their genes. Worldwide studies show that treated wastewater contain antibiotic resistant bacteria or genes encoding virulence or antimicrobial resistance, evidencing that treatment processes may fail to remove efficiently these bio-pollutants. The contamination of the surrounding environment, such as rivers or lakes receiving such effluents, is also documented in several studies. The current state of the art suggests that only some of antibiotic resistance and virulence potential in wastewater is known. Moreover, wastewater habitats may favour the evolution and dissemination of new resistance and virulence genes and the emergence of new pathogens. For these reasons, additional research is needed in order to obtain a more detailed assessment of the long-term effects of wastewater discharges. In particular, it is important to measure the human and environmental health risks associated with wastewater reuse.


Wastewater Clinically relevant bacteria Antibiotic resistance Virulence Wastewater reuse 



This work was supported by National Funds from Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) through projects PEst-OE/EQB/LA0016/2011 and PTDC/AAC-AMB/113840/2009 and ARV grant SFRH/BD/44876/2008.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CBQF - Centro de Biotecnologia e Química Fina - Laboratório Associado, Escola Superior de BiotecnologiaUniversidade Católica Portuguesa/Porto, Rua Dr. António Bernardino de AlmeidaPortoPortugal

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