Microbial source tracking and spatial analysis of E. coli contaminated private well waters in southeastern Ontario

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Private water supplies, which are the primary source of drinking water for rural communities in developed countries, are at risk of becoming fecally contaminated. It is important to identify the source of contamination in order to better understand and address this human health risk. Microbial source tracking methods using human, bovine and general Bacteroidales markers were performed on 716 well water samples from southeastern Ontario, which had previously tested positive for Escherichia coli. The results were then geospatially analyzed in order to elucidate contamination patterns. Markers for human feces were found in nearly half (49%) of all samples tested, and a statistically significant spatial cluster was observed. A quarter of the samples tested positive for only general Bacteroidales markers (25.7%) and relatively few bovine specific marker positives (12.6%) were found. These findings are fundamental to the understanding of pathogen dynamics and risk in the context of drinking well water and will inform future research regarding host-specific pathogens in private well water samples.

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