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Risk of Norovirus Gastroenteritis from Consumption of Vegetables Irrigated with Highly Treated Municipal Wastewater—Evaluation of Methods to Estimate Sewage Quality

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Abstract

Quantitative microbial risk assessment was used to assess the risk of norovirus gastroenteritis associated with consumption of raw vegetables irrigated with highly treated municipal wastewater, using Melbourne, Australia as an example. In the absence of local norovirus concentrations, three methods were developed: (1) published concentrations of norovirus in raw sewage, (2) an epidemiological method using Melbourne prevalence of norovirus, and (3) an adjustment of method 1 to account for prevalence of norovirus. The methods produced highly variable results with estimates of norovirus concentrations in raw sewage ranging from 104 per milliliter to 107 per milliliter and treated effluent from 1 × 10−3 per milliliter to 3 per milliliter (95th percentiles). Annual disease burden was very low using method 1, from 4 to 5 log10 disability adjusted life years (DALYs) below the 10−6 threshold (0.005–0.1 illnesses per year). Results of method 2 were higher, with some scenarios exceeding the threshold by up to 2 log10 DALYs (up to 95,000 illnesses per year). Method 3, thought to be most representative of Melbourne conditions, predicted annual disease burdens >2 log10 DALYs lower than the threshold (∼4 additional cases per year). Sensitivity analyses demonstrated that input parameters used to estimate norovirus concentration accounted for much of the model output variability. This model, while constrained by a lack of knowledge of sewage concentrations, used the best available information and sound logic. Results suggest that current wastewater reuse behaviors in Melbourne are unlikely to cause norovirus risks in excess of the annual DALY health target.

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