Opportunistic pathogens cause disease in vulnerable people such as the young, elderly, and those with underlying health conditions. Opportunistic pathogens are an increasingly important portion of the waterborne disease burden globally and include pathogens such as Legionella pneumophila, non-tuberculous mycobacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and a long list of others. These pathogens are of particular concern in engineered water systems.

The bacteria Legionella pneumophila causes a severe respiratory illness known as Legionnaires’ Disease as well as a less severe form of illness, Pontiac Fever. It is the most frequently identified cause of drinking water-associated waterborne disease outbreaks in the US. We are using various modeling approaches including quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) to inform prevention strategies for Legionnaires’ Disease.

Non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) are a group of mycobacteria apart from those that cause tuberculosis. They can cause infections that vary depending on the exposure route, exposed population, and species of NTM considered. We are expanding our approaches for Legionnaires’ Disease to predict and prevent NTM risks.