Environmental sources of E. coli are not always what they seem

Up to 24 per cent of E. coli in soil sediment is from urban, not farm runoff, in areas of California.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists have identified sources of E. coli bacteria that could help restore the reputation of local livestock. Studies by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist Mark Ibekwe suggest that in some parts of California, pathogens in local waterways are more often carried there via runoff from urban areas, not from animal production facilities.

Even though most strains of E. coli are non-pathogenic, the bacterium is monitored by public health officials as an indicator of water quality. Cows are often seen as the culprits when E. coli is found in local lakes, rivers and other bodies of water.

Ibekwe, who works at the ARS U.S. Salinity Laboratory in Riverside, Calif., and his colleagues collected 450 water and sediment samples from 20 sites throughout California’s middle Santa Ana River Watershed. The collection sites included urban areas, livestock feeding areas, parks, National Forest lands, and three wastewater treatment plants.

Then the scientists extracted E. coli bacteria from each sample and identified 600 different isolates of E. coli in their samples, many of which could be placed into six clonal populations. They found the greatest variety of different types of E. coli in runoff discharged from areas dominated by urban development or human activities.

Ibekwe also tested all the E. coli isolates for resistance to various antibiotics. He found that from 88 to 95 percent of the isolates were resistant to rifampicin, and that around 75 percent were resistant to tetracycline. Tetracycline resistance was by far the most common type of resistance observed in E. coli isolates collected near wastewater treatment plants.

The scientists also found that 24 percent of E. coli collected in sediment samples associated with urban runoff—a total of 144 isolates—showed resistance to as many as seven antibiotics. Results from this work were published in PLOS ONE.

UK school boycotted in E. coli scare

The. U.K. is sorta ground zero for E. coli O157 outbreaks in schools and little kids.

So it’s understandable that a primary school has been boycotted by terrified parents amid fears of E. coli contamination.

The playground of Lawfield Primary School in Midlothian was flooded with contaminated water from a neighbouring farm field.

The local council admitted “a wide range of bacteria” was present and warned parents of a potential risk by text message.

They also cordoned off the affected area and are insisting all pupils wash their hands with antibacterial gel.

Despite the measures, it is understood that as many as 30 children have been taken out of the school.

Parents say they will not return to the school, which has 230 pupils, until the presence of potentially deadly E-coli bacteria is ruled out.

Mark Wilkinson, 38, who has two sons at the Edinburgh school, was especially concerned as his wife contracted the bacteria while being treated for kidney stones at a city hospital.

The dad-of-three said: “They’re not going back until I know for a fact there’s no E-coli.

“My wife nearly died of E-coli a couple of years ago so I know how easy it is to catch it – it’s a silent killer.

“There is water running into the playground off a farmer’s field which the school believes may be contaminated with E-coli.

“If the council is testing the water why is the school still open?”

Another father, who wished to remain anonymous, said he received a text from the school around 8.30am advising children to bring a second set of footwear, but by that time it was too late.

He said: “I took the girls to school and a nursery teacher said there had been an outbreak of E-coli in the playground – I was shocked.

“When I went to pick my daughter up from nursery at 11.45am about 30 parents were there taking their kids out of school.

“I decided to take my oldest daughter out of school too – I won’t send them back until the council gives the all-clear.”