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Comparison of Fecal Indicators with Pathogenic Bacteria and Rotavirus in Groundwater


Ferguson, Andrew S.; Layton, Alice C.; Mailloux, Brian J.; Culligan, Patricia J.; Williams, Daniel E.; Smartt, Abby E.; Sayler, Gary S.; Feighery, John; McKay, Larry D.; & Knappett, Peter S. K., et al. (2012). Comparison of Fecal Indicators with Pathogenic Bacteria and Rotavirus in Groundwater. Science of the Total Environment, 431(1), 314-322. PMCID: PMC3587152


Groundwater is routinely analyzed for fecal indicators but direct comparisons of fecal indicators to the presence of bacterial and viral pathogens are rare. This study was conducted in rural Bangladesh where the human population density is high, sanitation is poor, and groundwater pumped from shallow tubewells is often contaminated with fecal bacteria. Five indicator microorganisms (E. coli, total coliform, F + RNA coliphage, Bacteroides and human-associated Bacteroides) and various environmental parameters were compared to the direct detection of waterborne pathogens by quantitative PCR in groundwater pumped from 50 tubewells. Rotavirus was detected in groundwater filtrate from the largest proportion of tubewells (40%), followed by Shigella (10%), Vibrio (10%), and pathogenic E. coli (8%). Spearman rank correlations and sensitivity–specificity calculations indicate that some, but not all, combinations of indicators and environmental parameters can predict the presence of pathogens. Culture-dependent fecal indicator bacteria measured on a single date did not predict total bacterial pathogens, but annually averaged monthly measurements of culturable E. coli did improve prediction for total bacterial pathogens. A qPCR-based E. coli assay was the best indicator for the bacterial pathogens. F+RNA coliphage were neither correlated nor sufficiently sensitive towards rotavirus, but were predictive of bacterial pathogens. Since groundwater cannot be excluded as a significant source of diarrheal disease in Bangladesh and neighboring countries with similar characteristics, the need to develop more effective methods for screening tubewells with respect to microbial contamination is necessary.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Science of the Total Environment


Ferguson, Andrew S.
Layton, Alice C.
Mailloux, Brian J.
Culligan, Patricia J.
Williams, Daniel E.
Smartt, Abby E.
Sayler, Gary S.
Feighery, John
McKay, Larry D.
Knappett, Peter S. K.
Alexandrova, Ekaterina
Arbit, Talia
Emch, Michael E.
Escamilla, Veronica
Ahmed, Kazi Matin
Alam, Md. Jahangir
Streatfield, Peter Kim
Yunus, Mohammad
van Geen, Alexander