Antibiotic resistance in drinking water systems: Occurrence, removal, and human health risks

Edmond Sanganyado, Willis Gwenzi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

352 Citations (Scopus)


In recent years, there has been a growing interest on the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (ARB) and antibiotic resistant genes (ARGs) in treated and untreated drinking water. ARB and ARGs pose a public health concern when they transfer antibiotic resistance (AR) to human pathogens. However, it is still unclear whether the presence of environmental ARB and ARGs in source water, drinking water treatment plants, and drinking water distribution systems has any significant impact on human exposure to pathogenic ARB. In this review, we critically examine the occurrence of AR in groundwater, surface water, and treated distributed water. This offered a new perspective on the human health threat posed by AR in drinking water and helped in crafting a strategy for monitoring AR effectively. Using existing data on removal of ARB and ARGs in drinking water treatment plants, presence and proliferation of AR in drinking water distribution systems, and mechanisms and pathways of AR transfer in drinking water treatment plants, we conclude that combining UV-irradiation with advanced oxidative processes (such as UV/chlorine, UV/H2O2, and H2O2/UV/TiO2) may enhance the removal of ARB and ARGs, while disinfection may promote horizontal gene transfer from environmental ARB to pathogens. The potential human health risks of AR were determined by examining human exposure to antibiotic resistant human pathogens and re-evaluating waterborne disease outbreaks and their links to environmental AR. We concluded that integrating disease outbreak analysis, human exposure modelling, and clinical data could provide critical information that can be used to estimate the dose-response relationships of pathogenic ARB in drinking water, which is required for accurate risk assessments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)785-797
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date12 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes


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