Controlling spread of waterborne infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance

Microbial safety and hygiene

Water systems have to be designed and function in such a way that citizens can safely use drinking water and that diseases are not spread via the water. By developing knowledge and practical tools, KWR provides the water sector with the means it needs to meet increasingly stringent guidelines. This enables the assessment and management of the microbial safety and hygiene of water systems.

Applying genomics and integrating knowledge into models

Healthy water is a vital resource in our society. Citizens must dispose of safe water that is free of pathogens and antimicrobial resistance. Thorough knowledge of microbiology is needed to be able to trace microorganisms in water, including their reaction to (disinfection) agents and other microorganisms, their behaviour in water systems, their health risks, and the effectiveness of control measures such as water treatment. One major scientific challenge is the application of genomics techniques. These can provide a much clearer picture of the sources and spread of pathogens in water and antimicrobial resistance. This knowledge also needs to be integrated into hydrodynamic and risk models. This would allow for assessments of the safety of water systems, or predictions and scenario analyses for new applications – for instance, the reuse of wastewater or greywater – or scenarios relating to climate change or improvements in wastewater treatment.

Knowledge and practical tools

Thanks to KWR research the water sector disposes of knowledge and practical tools to assess the safety of (drinking) water systems. It is therefore able to meet increasingly stringent guidelines.

  • Knowledge about the occurrence of pathogens and antimicrobial resistance in contamination sources and their spread via water.
  • Thorough understanding of processes that result in the removal, disinfection or inactivation of microorganisms [e.g., viruses, (antimicrobial-resistant) bacteria, protozoa] in the watercycle.
  • Development of Microbial Source Tracking genomics methods for tracing contamination sources.
    Development of genomics tools to determine the presence of new pathogens and antimicrobial resistance in water.
  • Development of hydrodynamic tools to achieve, in combination with knowledge about contamination sources, a better understanding of the sources, presence and significance of pathogens in water, including an evaluation of the effectiveness of control measures.
  • Use of Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment (QMRA) system for fast and effective risk analysis.
  • Development and use of Water (Cycle) Safety Plans (WSPs) to make water safe; from identification, prioritisation and management of risks to communication.
  • Use of knowledge and lab facilities, for example, to test Household Water Treatment systems.

Making hygiene and safety manageable

With KWR’s thorough knowledge and tools, the water sector has the means to make the microbial safety and hygiene of water systems assessable and manageable. Both in the Netherlands and internationally, KWR has a strong track record as a reliable partner in assessing and improving the safety of water systems. The applications range from drinking water supply (centralised, decentralised), reuse of wastewater (drinking water, agriculture, food industry), bathing water and industry water. KWR is a WHO Collaborating Centre for Water Quality & Health, so that developing countries can also count on our expertise; for instance, in reducing infant mortality resulting from infectious diseases caused by unsafe drinking water and unhygienic sanitation.