Occurrence of human enteric viruses in water sources and shellfish: a focus on Africa

Nicole S. Upfold, Garry A. Luke, Caroline Knox*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Enteric viruses are a diverse group of human pathogens which are primarily transmitted by the faecal–oral route and are a major cause of non-bacterial diarrhoeal disease in both developed and developing countries. Because they are shed in high numbers by infected individuals and can persist for a long time in the environment, they pose a serious threat to human health globally. Enteric viruses end up in the environment mainly through discharge or leakage of raw or inadequately treated sewage into water sources such as springs, rivers, dams, or marine estuaries. Human exposure then follows when contaminated water is used for drinking, cooking, or recreation and, importantly, when filter-feeding bivalve shellfish are consumed. The human health hazard posed by enteric viruses is particularly serious in Africa where rapid urbanisation in a relatively short period of time has led to the expansion of informal settlements with poor sanitation and failing or non-existent wastewater treatment infrastructure, and where rural communities with limited or no access to municipal water are dependent on nearby open water sources for their subsistence. The role of sewage-contaminated water and bivalve shellfish as vehicles for transmission of enteric viruses is well documented but, to our knowledge, has not been comprehensively reviewed in the African context. Here we provide an overview of enteric viruses and then review the growing body of research where these viruses have been detected in association with sewage-contaminated water or food in several African countries. These studies highlight the need for more research into the prevalence, molecular epidemiology and circulation of these viruses in Africa, as well as for development and application of innovative wastewater treatment approaches to reduce environmental pollution and its impact on human health on the continent.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-31
Number of pages31
JournalFood and Environmental Virology
Issue number1
Early online date27 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • African continent
  • Enteric viruses
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Shellfish
  • Wastewater


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