Disease-carrying bugs dangerous to those suffering lung conditions have been found in Brisbane’s water distribution system.
Brisbane’s water supply contains disease-carrying bugs that can cause infections with tuberculosis like symptoms, new research has found.
The discovery of the mycobacteria is particularly concerning for those with pre-existing lung conditions as they’re more likely to be infected.
However it may also help explain why a growing number of healthy middle-aged women have been diagnosed with nontuberculous mycobacterial diseases.
The Queensland University of Technology study found species of nontuberculous mycobacteria in Brisbane’s water and directly linked them to strains found in humans, indicating water may be the source of infection.
Researcher Rachel Thomson says water samples were taken from 220 sites around Brisbane and the homes of 20 people with mycobacterial infections.
“Seven of those patients who had the bacteria in their homes had the same bacteria in their lungs,” Dr Thomson told AAP.
While mycobacterial infections are most common in people with emphysema and cystic fibrosis and those suffering immune suppression conditions like HIV, healthy people can also be affected.
Dr Thomson says there are about 200 new mycobacterial cases in Queensland each year, with a growing number of infections among healthy middle-aged women who are usually slender and slightly taller than average.
“It has been termed Lady Windermere syndrome because we are seeing it in women who tend to quietly and politely cough ineffectively, thereby not coughing up the bacteria,” she explained.
Other symptoms of mycobacteria infections include fatigue, night sweats, coughing up blood or mucus and weight loss.
Certain strains carry a high risk of morbidity and mortality and its believed one may even be infectious.
Those infected usually have to take three different antibiotics for 12 to 18 months.
Dr Thomson said boiling water for four minutes kills the bacteria and her study suggests additional chlorination through the water treatment process may also help.
The results also show the need for the mycobacteria levels in Brisbane’s water system to be regularly monitored, she said.