Mycobacterium avium complex - the role of potable water in disease transmission

Harriet Whiley, Alex Keegan, Steven Giglio, Richard Bentham

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    61 Citations (Scopus)


    Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) is a group of opportunistic pathogens of major public health concern. It is responsible for a wide spectrum of disease dependent on subspecies, route of infection and patients pre-existing conditions. Presently, there is limited research on the incidence of MAC infection that considers both pulmonary and other clinical manifestations. MAC has been isolated from various terrestrial and aquatic environments including natural waters, engineered water systems and soils. Identifying the specific environmental sources responsible for human infection is essential in minimizing disease prevalence. This paper reviews current literature and case studies regarding the wide spectrum of disease caused by MAC and the role of potable water in disease transmission. Potable water was recognized as a putative pathway for MAC infection. Contaminated potable water sources associated with human infection included warm water distribution systems, showers, faucets, household drinking water, swimming pools and hot tub spas. MAC can maintain long-term contamination of potable water sources through its high resistance to disinfectants, association with biofilms and intracellular parasitism of free-living protozoa. Further research is required to investigate the efficiency of water treatment processes against MAC and into construction and maintenance of warm water distribution systems and the role they play in MAC proliferation.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)223-232
    Number of pages10
    JournalJournal of Applied Microbiology
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012


    • Hot tub lung
    • Mycobacterium avium complex
    • Non-tuberculous mycobacterium
    • Potable water


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