Public health implications of Acanthamoeba and multiple potential opportunistic pathogens in roof-harvested rainwater tanks

K. A. Hamilton, W. Ahmed, A. Palmer, J. P.S. Sidhu, L. Hodgers, S. Toze, C. N. Haas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


A study of six potential opportunistic pathogens (Acanthamoeba spp., Legionella spp., Legionella longbeachae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Mycobacterium avium and Mycobacterium intracellulare) and an accidental human pathogen (Legionella pneumophila) in 134 roof-harvested rainwater (RHRW) tank samples was conducted using quantitative PCR (qPCR). All five opportunistic pathogens and accidental pathogen L. pneumophila were detected in rainwater tanks except Legionella longbeachae. Concentrations ranged up to 3.1×106 gene copies per L rainwater for Legionella spp., 9.6×105 gene copies per L for P. aeruginosa, 6.8×105 gene copies per L for M. intracellulare, 6.6×105 gene copies per L for Acanthamoeba spp., 1.1×105 gene copies per L for M. avium, and 9.8×103 gene copies per L for L. pneumophila. Among the organisms tested, Legionella spp. (99% tanks) were the most prevalent followed by M. intracellulare (78%). A survey of tank-owners provided data on rainwater end-uses. Fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) Escherichia coli and Enterococcus spp. were enumerated using culture-based methods, and assessed for correlations with opportunistic pathogens and L. pneumophila tested in this study. Opportunistic pathogens did not correlate well with FIB except E. coli vs. Legionella spp. (tau=0.151, P=0.009) and E. coli vs. M. intracellulare (tau=0.14, P=0.015). However, M. avium weakly correlated with both L. pneumophila (Kendall's tau=0.017, P=0.006) and M. intracellulare (tau=0.088, P=0.027), and Legionella spp. also weakly correlated with M. intracellulare (tau=0.128, P=0.028). The presence of these potential opportunistic pathogens in tank water may present health risks from both the potable and non-potable uses documented from the current survey data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)320-327
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Fecal indicator bacteria
  • Health risks
  • Opportunistic pathogens
  • Quantitative PCR
  • Rainwater survey
  • Roof-harvested rainwater

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)


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