The discovery of the mycobacteria is particularly concerning for residents with pre-existing lung conditions, as they are more likely to be infected.
However, it may also help explain why a growing number of healthy middle-aged women are being diagnosed with nontuberculous mycobacterial disease.
Patients with the disease cough up blood or mucus and suffer night sweats, fatigue and weight loss.
The Queensland University of Technology study by respiratory specialist Dr Rachel Thomson found species of nontuberculous mycobacteria in Brisbane's water and directly linked them to diseases in residents.
Water samples were taken from 220 sites around Brisbane, including the homes of 20 people with mycobacterial infections.
"Seven of those patients who had the bacteria in their homes had the same bacteria in their lungs," Dr Thomson said.
Of the 200 cases of nontuberculous mycobacterial disease diagnosed in Queensland each year, about 40 per cent can be attributed to the bacteria in the water supply, she said.
"We have suspected for a long time that it may have been in the water supply, based on studies overseas, but this has confirmed it," Dr Thomson said.
She said mycobacterial disease was most common in people with severe asthma, emphysema and cystic fibrosis and those suffering immune suppression conditions like HIV.
However, a growing number of healthy, middle-aged women, who are usually slender and slightly taller than average, are being diagnosed with the disease.
"It has been affectionately termed Lady Windermere syndrome, because we are seeing it in women, who tend to cough quietly and politely, thereby not coughing up the bacteria," Dr Thomson said.
She said reducing the temperature of home hot water systems may have contributed to increased household exposure to these mycobacteria.
Those infected usually have to take three different antibiotics for 12 to 18 months.
"Certain strains of the disease are also notoriously difficult to treat and carry a high risk of morbidity and mortality and there has been a recent suggestion that infection with one species may be transmitted between patients," Dr Thomson said.
The four specific species of mycobacteria Dr Thomson found in Brisbane water that have been linked to human disease include Mycobacterium abscessus, Mycobacterium avium, Mycobacterium lentiflavum, and Mycobacterium kansasii.
She recommended at-risk people boil water for four minutes to kill the bacteria. Her study suggests additional chlorination through the water treatment process may also help.
The results also show the need for the mycobacteria levels in Brisbane's water system to be regularly monitored, she said.
But Dr David Paterson, consultant to Queensland Health’s Communicable Diseases Unit, believed more research needed to be done before the state would consider recommending changes to water quality testing guidelines.
“We are comfortable with the current testing levels in Queensland and I do not think at this stage there is any cause for concern,’’ he said.
“There is no need for anyone in Brisbane to boil their water for any purposes.’’
brisbanetimes.com.au 28 Feb 2014
Who really cares, it's only poisoning the 'cannon fodder'.
Government reality: We don't even need their votes, only their names, as we rig the votes.