Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

Microbiological and Chemical Exposure Assessment

Research In Action

Development of saliva-based exposure assays for detecting exposure to waterborne pathogens


Microbes (like viruses, bacteria, and parasites) in drinking and recreational water can cause illness in humans. Identifying which specific pathogens we are exposed to can be very challenging because many types of pathogens can be found in water and many pathogens have similar symptoms. In order to understand the risks associated with waterborne pathogens an assessment is needed to determine if there has been human exposure to specific pathogens. Traditionally, methods to measure exposure have relied on serological assessments. These are expensive and invasive approaches requiring that blood samples be collected and tested for antibodies against the pathogens in question. There is a need for analytical methods that are less invasive, cost effective, rapid, allow for high throughput analysis, and can simultaneously measure exposure to multiple pathogens.


EPA scientists have developed a simple way to measure human exposure to waterborne pathogens. Using swabs of saliva, which can be collected quickly and non-invasively, scientists can look for specific antibodies created by the immune system in response to exposure from certain microbes. Using this new method, scientists can collect, store, and measure these antibodies using a high throughput multiplex immunoassay.

Result and Impact

This new saliva-based method gives scientists the ability to accurately measure a person’s actual exposure to waterborne pathogens and to understand the relationship between the pathogen concentrations measured in water samples, illness rates, and human exposures. Further, this method enhances epidemiological studies by providing measurements of exposure, and can show decision makers which waterborne pathogens present the greatest risk and how different water management strategies affect the health of communities.

Publications Generated

Griffin, S. M., I. M. Chen, et al. (2011). "Development of a multiplex microsphere immunoassay for the quantitation of salivary antibody responses to selected waterborne pathogens." J Immunol Methods 364(1-2): 83-93.

Additional Information

Jump to main content.