Decay of four enteric pathogens and implications to wastewater-based epidemiology: Effects of temperature and wastewater dilutions

Publication Name

Science of the Total Environment


Measurement of pathogens in raw wastewater from a population within certain sewer catchments can provide quantitative information on public health status within the sampled urban area. This so-called wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) approach has the potential of becoming a powerful tool to monitor pathogen circulation and support timely intervention during outbreaks. However, many WBE studies failed to account for the pathogen decay during wastewater transportation in back calculating the disease prevalence. Various sewer process factors, including water temperature and infiltration/inflow, can lead to the variation of pathogen decay rates. This paper firstly reviewed the effects of temperature and types of water, i.e., wastewater, freshwater, and saline water, on the decay of four selected enteric pathogens, i.e., Campylobacter, Salmonella, Norovirus, and Adenovirus. To elucidate the importance of the pathogen decay rates (measured by culture and molecular methods) to WBE, a sensitivity analysis was conducted on the back-calculation equation for infection prevalence with decay rates collected from published literature. It was found that WBE back-calculation is more sensitive to decay rates under the condition of high wastewater temperature (i.e., over 25 °C) or if wastewater is diluted by saline water (i.e., sewer infiltration or use of seawater as an alternative source of freshwater constituting around 1/3 household water demand in some cities). Stormwater dilution of domestic wastewater (i.e., sewer inflow might achieve 10 times volumetric dilution) was shown to play a role in increasing the sensitivity of WBE back-calculation to bacterial pathogens, but not viral pathogens. Hence, WBE back-calculation in real sewers should account for in-sewer decay of specific pathogen species under different wastewater temperatures and dilutions. Overall, this review contributes to a better understanding of pathogen decay in wastewater which can lead to improved accuracy of WBE back-calculation.

Open Access Status

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Funding Sponsor

Australian Research Council



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