Sorbitol-fermenting Bifidobacteria are indicators of very recent human faecal pollution in streams and groundwater habitats in urban tropical lowlands

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Sorbitol-fermenting Bifidobacteria (SFB) proved to be an excellent indicator of very recent human faecal pollution (hours to days) in the investigated tropical stream and groundwater habitats. SFB were recovered from human faeces and sources potentially contaminated with human excreta. SFB were undetectable in animal faeces and environmental samples not contaminated with human faeces. Microcosm studies demonstrated a rapid die-off rate in groundwater (T90 value 0.6 days) and stream water (T90 value 0.9–1.7 days). Discrimination sensitivity analysis, including E. coli, faecal coliforms, total coliforms and Clostridium perfringens spores, revealed high ability of SFB to distinguish differing levels of faecal pollution especially for streams although high background levels of interfering bacteria can complicate its recovery on the used medium. Due to its faster die-off, as compared to many waterborne pathogens, SFB cannot replace microbiological standard parameters for routine water quality monitoring but it is highly recommendable as a specific and complementary tool when human faecal pollution has to be localized or verified. Because of its exclusive faecal origin and human specificity it seems also worthwhile to include SFB in future risk evaluation studies at tropical water resources in order to evaluate under which situations risks of infection may be indicated.

Keywords: microbial faecal pollution, microbial source tracking, sorbitol-fermenting Bifidobacteria, standard and alternative faecal indicators, tropical water bodies, urban areas, water quality

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