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Food Quality and Safety in Europe



Waterborne pathogens are on the rise, and instances of contamination challenge global authorities to ensure greater safety for the water we drink. Scientists, governments and citizens alike are concerned about the challenges posed by microbial threats to world health. Unhealthy water, as well as bad sanitation and hygiene are responsible for 4% of all deaths globally. In the EU, there have been outbreaks of emergent waterborne diseases in areas where they had previously been undetected.

To date, developing countries have not benefitted enough from modern public health and technological advances in the ongoing battle against infectious diseases. In reality, many of them have little or no clean water and their sewage systems are unable to cope or are nonexistent. Diseases affect the entire globe, but are more prevalent within the developing world. Research has estimated that every day 36 000 individuals die from infectious diseases. What has emerged is the need to identify which specific environmental factors are causing health problems, followed by the need to understand the mechanisms that may be involved.


HEALTHY-WATER has been created to support the needs of the EU's 6th Framework Programme. The project is designed to further scientists' understanding of pathogens in drinking water, by building on previous work done on microbiological surveillance of water supplies. A major focus is the development and validation of molecular detection technologies. Currently, EU governments need to show that their water supplies meet certain standards, which are set by the EU's directive on drinking water.

The team set up the project to study (from source to tap) the current status of the EU's drinking water and to fill the knowledge gap concerning waterborne pathogens and ways of detecting them over the long term. They also run a molecular survey combined with an epidemiological study, thus gaining a greater understanding of the impacts of emerging pathogens on human health. The focus is on high-risk water supply systems in Europe. Partners also check the immunological status of exposed populations in order to examine the effects of consuming water taken from high-risk target areas. The HEALTHY-WATER consortium comprises an interdisciplinary team from academic institutions, water works and industry, thus providing a broad experience in drinking water issues.

The findings of HEALTHY-WATER offer SMEs, agencies and governments new information which can be applied to water geared for mass consumption, thereby reducing risks both within and beyond the borders of the EU, and ultimately in developing countries. A further benefit of the project is greater employment opportunities in academia, as well as the industry sector and the strengthening of the competitiveness of Europe's food and biotechnology sector.

List of Partners

  • Helmholtz-Center for Infection Research, Department of Vaccinology (Germany)
  • School of Medicine, Health Policy and Practice, Department of Biomedicin, University of East Anglia (UK)
  • International Association for Danube Research - Austrian Committee (Austria)
  • University Rovira & Virgili, Unit of Microbiology, Faculty of Medicine (Spain)
  • University of Barcelona, Department of Microbiology (Spain)
  • Environnement, Centre International de Recherche sur l'Eau et l'Environnement (France)
  • National Institute of Environmental Health, Fodor Jozsef National Centre of Public Health (Hungary)
  • University of Nice-Sophia- Antipolis (France)
  • Molecular Diagnostics Center (Spain)
Full title:
Assessment of human health impacts from emerging microbial pathogens in drinking water by molecular and epidemiological studies
Contract n:
Project co-ordinator:
Manfred Hoefle, Helmholtz-Center for Infection Research, manfred.hoefle@helmholtz-hzi
EC Scientific Officer:
Dirk Pottier,
EU contribution:
€ 2.4M
Specific Targeted Research Project

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top