The relationship of E. coli and total coliform culture to the quantitative molecular detection of various fecal indicators, sources, and pathogens in private drinking water wells
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Water remains a predominant vector for human enteric pathogens not just for developing countries but also developed nations, where numerous infectious disease outbreaks, linked to the contamination of drinking water have been documented. Private drinking water wells are a source of drinking water that is largely unstudied even though a significant percentage of the population in Ontario relies on wells as their primary water source. As there exists little to no systematic surveillance for enteric infections or outbreaks related to well water sources, these individuals may be at higher risk of waterborne infectious diseases. The relationships between various fecal indicators in the water of private drinking water wells, including E. coli, Total Coliforms (TC) and Bacteroides, and enteric pathogens, including Campylobacter jejuni, Salmonella spp., and Shiga toxin producing E. coli, were studied. Convenience private well water samples collected from various regions of interest during the summer of 2014 underwent membrane filtration and culture to determine quantities of E. coli and TC colony forming units. 289 E. coli positive and 230 TC-only waters were successfully analyzed by individual qPCR assays for the aforementioned enteric pathogens. Microbial source tracking methods targeted to specific Bacteroides were used to determine the source of fecal contamination as either human or bovine. The source of fecal contamination varied by geographic region and is thought to be due to such things as differences in septic tank density and underlying geology, among others. Fecal indicators, E. coli and Bacteroides, were significantly correlated. E. coli as measured by qPCR was more strongly correlated to both total and human-specific Bacteroides genetic markers than culturable E. coli. Lastly, 1.9% of samples showed molecular evidence of contamination with enteric pathogens. Although low, this finding is significant given the limited volume of water available for testing, and suggests a potential health risk to consumers. Knowing the extent of contamination, as well as the biologic source, can better inform risk assessment and the development of potential intervention strategies for private well water in specific regions of Ontario.