The application of bacteriophages as novel indicators of viral pathogens in wastewater treatment systems

Edgard Dias, James Ebdon, Huw Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many wastewater treatment technologies have been shown to remove bacterial pathogens more effectively than viral pathogens and, in aquatic environments, levels of traditional faecal indicator bacteria (FIB) do not appear to correlate consistently with levels of human viral pathogens. There is, therefore, a need for novel viral indicators of faecal pollution and surrogates of viral pathogens, especially given the increasing importance of indirect and direct wastewater reuse. Potential candidates include bacteriophages (phages) and the study described here sought to elucidate the relationship between three groups of phages (somatic coliphages (SOMPH), F RNA coliphages (F RNAPH) and human-specific phages infecting B. fragilis (Bf124PH) – enumeration using double layer agar technique) and viral pathogens (human adenovirus (HuAdV) and norovirus (NoV) – enumeration using molecular methods) through full-scale municipal wastewater treatment processes. FIB (faecal coliforms (FC) and intestinal enterococci (ENT) – enumeration using membrane filtration) were also monitored. Samples were collected every fortnight, during a twelve-month period, at each stage of four full-scale wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) in southern England (two activated sludge (AS) and two trickling filter (TF) plants) (n=360 samples). FIB and SOMPH were consistently found in all samples tested, whereas F RNAPH, Bf124PH and HuAdV were less frequently detected, especially following AS treatment. The detection rate of NoV was low and consequently discussion of this group of viruses is limited. Concentrations of SOMPH and FIB were statistically higher (p value<0.05) than concentrations of F RNAPH, Bf124PH and HuAdV in raw wastewater. FIB were more effectively removed than phages in both systems. Removal rates of HuAdV were similar to those of phages at the secondary treatment stage of both systems. In TF systems, HuAdV were removed at the same rate as F-RNAPH, but at lower rates than SOMPH and Bf124PH. The findings suggest that phages (in particular SOMPH) are better indicators of the fate of viral pathogens in WWTP than existing FIB and that these organisms may have a useful role to play in future sanitation safety planning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)172-179
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

© 2017. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license


  • Human viral pathogens
  • Phages
  • Faecal indicator bacteria
  • Reuse
  • Risk
  • Sanitation safety planning


Dive into the research topics of 'The application of bacteriophages as novel indicators of viral pathogens in wastewater treatment systems'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this