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Bacteriological and physico-chemical assessment of wastewater in different region of Tunisia: impact on human health

Imen Ben Salem*, Imen Ouardani, Mouna Hassine and Mahjoub Aouni

Author Affiliations

Laboratoire des Maladies Transmissibles et Substances Biologiquement Actives - Université de Monastir, Tunisia

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:144  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-144

Published: 22 May 2011



In many parts of the world, health problems and diseases have often been caused by discharging untreated or inadequately treated wastewater. In this study, we aimed to control physico-chemical parameters in wastewater samples. Also, microbiological analyses were done to reveal Salmonella strains and each Escherichia coli (E.coli) pathotype.


Sixty wastewater samples were collected from fifteen different regions of Tunisia. All physico-chemical parameters (pH, residual free chlorine, total suspended solids, biological oxygen demand, and chemical oxygen demand) were evaluated.

For microbiological analyses, samples were filtered to concentrate bacteria. DNA was extracted by boiling and subjected to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using different pairs of primers.

The mean pH values recorded for the sampling point were above the WHO pH tolerance limit. The total suspended solids (TSS) concentrations varied between 240 mg/L and 733 mg/L in entrance points and between 13 mg/L and 76 mg/L in exit points. In entrance points, the studied wastewater has an average COD concentration that varied between 795 mg/mL to 1420 mg/mL. Whereas, BOD concentration of the wastewater ranged between 270 mg/L to 610 mg/L. In exit points, COD concentration varied between 59 mg/L and 141 mg/L, whereas BOD concentration ranged from 15 mg/L to 87 mg/L.

The bacteriological control of wastewaters showed that, in entrance points, Escherichia coli (E.coli) was detected at the rate of 76.6%. Three E.coli pathotypes were found: ETEC (53.3%), EAEC (16.6%) and EIEC (6.6%).

Concerning the ETEC isolated strains, 8 of 16 (50%) have only the heat-labile toxin gene, 5 of 16 (31.2%) present only the heat-stable toxin gene and 3 of 16 (18.7%) of strains possess both heat-labile toxin gene and heat-stable toxin gene. In exist point, the same pathotypes were found but all detected ETEC strains present only the "est" gene.

Concerning Salmonella isolated strains; percentages of 66.6% and 20% were found in entrance and exit points respectively.


Wastewaters contain a large amount of pathogenic bacteria that present a real impact on human health. Assessment wastewater treatment stations have to consider in account enterobacterial pathogens as potential pathogens that should be correctly controlled.

Enteropathogenic bacteria; Escherichia coli; pathotype; microbiological quality; reclaimed wastewater