Studying Bioaerosols in Cities with Poor Sanitation

8/7/19 Pratt School of Engineering

Duke One Health researchers conduct bioaerosol sampling in La Paz, Bolivia, to better understand pathogen exposure

La Paz, Bolivia's Choqueyapu River. Photo by Lucas Rocha-Melogno
Studying Bioaerosols in Cities with Poor Sanitation

In many places in the world, including La Paz, Bolivia, dense urban populations come into contact with uncontained human excreta. Duke One Health researchers hypothesize that part of the exposure comes from the Choqueyapu River, which is used as an open sewer, carrying the waste of around one million citizens as well as industrial and hospital wastewater. Exposure to enteric pathogens found in the Choqueyapu can result in diarrheal disease, one of the leading causes of death in children under the age of five. The resulting disease has been further linked to acute lower respiratory infections.

Lucas Rocha-Melogno, a PhD candidate in environmental engineering and Global Health Doctoral Scholar at Duke University, as well as a native of La Paz, returned to his home to collect bioaerosol samples along the Choqueyapu River and investigate whether this exposure could be creating lifetime health deficits on children or vulnerable individuals. The One Health researchers are developing a mathematical model for bioaerosol transport in La Paz, to estimate how far the living microbes travel and to develop a Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment. The collaborative project, involving researchers from Duke, Georgia Tech, Universidad Católica Boliviana and Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, is led by Duke civil and environmental engineering professor Marc Deshusses.

Rocha-Melogno said he wants to develop quantitative estimates to assess the potential impact of these aerosolized pathogens on his fellow Bolivians so that local authorities can take action.