The potential role of environmental Mycobacterium tuberculosis in the epidemiology of TB remains unknown. We investigated the transmission of M tuberculosis from humans to the environment and the possible transmission of M tuberculosis from the environment to humans.
A total of 1,500 samples were collected from three counties of the Tehran, Iran metropolitan area from February 2012 to January 2014. A total of 700 water samples (47%) and 800 soil samples (53%) were collected. Spoligotyping and the mycobacterial interspersed repetitive units-variable number of tandem repeats typing method were performed on DNA extracted from single colonies. Genotypes of M tuberculosis strains isolated from the environment were compared with the genotypes obtained from 55 patients with confirmed pulmonary TB diagnosed during the study period in the same three counties.
M tuberculosis was isolated from 11 of 800 soil samples (1%) and 71 of 700 water samples (10%). T family (56 of 82, 68%) followed by Delhi/CAS (11 of 82, 13.4%) were the most frequent M tuberculosis superfamilies in both water and soil samples. Overall, 27.7% of isolates in clusters were related. No related typing patterns were detected between soil, water, and clinical isolates. The most frequent superfamily of M tuberculosis in clinical isolates was Delhi/CAS (142, 30.3%) followed by NEW-1 (127, 27%). The bacilli in contaminated soil (36%) and damp water (8.4%) remained reculturable in some samples up to 9 months.
Although the dominant M tuberculosis superfamilies in soil and water did not correspond to the dominant M tuberculosis family in patients, the presence of circulating genotypes of M tuberculosis in soil and water highlight the risk of transmission.