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Pathogenic E. Coli Pervasive In Stream-water Samples With Low Concentrations Of Fecal Indicator Bacteria

Bacteria commonly used to indicate health risks in recreational waters might not be so reliable after all. Pathogenic E. coli were pervasive in stream-water samples with low concentrations of fecal indicator bacteria.

This is one of the unexpected findings from recent research that may affect how researchers and resource managers rely on indicator bacteria to determine if water is contaminated with bacteria that can make people sick. Although harmless themselves, fecal indicator bacteria such as nonpathogenic forms of E.coli, enterococci, and fecal coliform bacteria have long been used as an easy-to-measure surrogate to determine if pathogens are present.

“We saw little relation between pathogenic E. coli and fecal indicator bacteria criteria for recreational waters,” said Joseph Duris, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Michigan Water Science Center scientist who led the study. “This is intriguing because we rely on indicator bacteria to tell us whether or not the water could make people sick,” said Duris, whose study was published in the September-October issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality.
 
 

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