Wastewater surveillance of antibiotic-resistant bacterial pathogens: A systematic review

WastPan Study Group, Ananda Tiwari, Paula Kurittu, Ahmad I. Al-Mustapha, Viivi Heljanko, Venla Johansson, Ocean Thakali, Shyam Kumar Mishra, Kirsi-Maarit Lehto, Anssi Lipponen, Sami Oikarinen, Tarja Pitkänen, Annamari Heikinheimo

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    Infectious diseases caused by antibiotic-resistant bacterial (ARB) pathogens are a serious threat to human and animal health. The active surveillance of ARB using an integrated one-health approach can help to reduce the emergence and spread of ARB, reduce the associated economic impact, and guide antimicrobial stewardship programs. Wastewater surveillance (WWS) of ARB provides composite samples for a total population, with easy access to the mixed community microbiome. This concept is emerging rapidly, but the clinical utility, sensitivity, and uniformity of WWS of ARB remain poorly understood especially in relation to clinical evidence in sewershed communities. Here, we systematically searched the literature to identify studies that have compared findings from WWS of ARB and antibiotic resistance genes (ARG) with clinical evidence in parallel, thereby evaluating how likely WWS of ARB and ARG can relate to the clinical cases in communities. Initially, 2,235 articles were obtained using the primary search keywords, and 1,219 articles remained after de-duplication. Among these, 35 articles fulfilled the search criteria, and an additional 13 relevant articles were included by searching references in the primary literature. Among the 48 included papers, 34 studies used a culture-based method, followed by 11 metagenomics, and three PCR-based methods. A total of 28 out of 48 included studies were conducted at the single sewershed level, eight studies involved several countries, seven studies were conducted at national or regional scales, and five at hospital levels. Our review revealed that the performance of WWS of ARB pathogens has been evaluated more frequently for Escherichia coli, Enterococcus spp., and other members of the family Enterobacteriaceae, but has not been uniformly tested for all ARB pathogens. Many wastewater-based ARB studies comparing the findings with clinical evidence were conducted to evaluate the public health risk but not to relate with clinical evidence and to evaluate the performance of WWS of ARB. Indeed, relating WWS of ARB with clinical evidence in a sewershed is not straightforward, as the source of ARB in wastewater cannot be only from symptomatic human individuals but can also be from asymptomatic carriers as well as from animal sources. Further, the varying fates of each bacterial species and ARG within the sewerage make the aim of connecting WWS of ARB with clinical evidence more complicated. Therefore, future studies evaluating the performance of many AMR pathogens and their genes for WWS one by one can make the process simpler and the interpretation of results easier.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number977106
    JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2022
    Publication typeA2 Review article in a scientific journal


    • antimicrobial resistance
    • clinical surveillance
    • systematic review
    • wastewater surveillance
    • wastewater-based epidemiology

    Publication forum classification

    • Publication forum level 1

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Microbiology
    • Microbiology (medical)


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