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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2007 Mar;73(5):1395-403. Epub 2006 Dec 15.

Distribution and ecology of campylobacters in coastal plain streams (Georgia, United States of America).

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  • 1University of Georgia, Department of Environmental Health Science, 206 Environmental Health Science Bldg., Athens, GA 30602, USA.


Campylobacter is the leading cause of bacterium-associated diarrhea in the United States and most developed countries. While this disease is considered a food-borne disease, many clinical cases cannot be linked to a food source. In rural and agrarian areas environmental transmission may be an important factor contributing to case loads. Here we investigated the waterborne prevalence of campylobacters in a mixed-use rural watershed in the coastal plain of southern Georgia (United States). Six sites representing various degrees of agricultural and human influence were surveyed biweekly to monthly for 1 year for the presence of culturable thermophilic campylobacters and other measures of water quality. Campylobacters were frequently present in agriculture- and sewage-impacted stretches of streams. The mean campylobacter counts and overall prevalence were highest downstream from a wastewater treatment plant that handled both human and poultry slaughterhouse waste (<or=595 CFU ml-1; 100% positive); the concentrations were significantly higher than those for the four upstream sites (P<0.05). The counts were significantly correlated with the number of fecal coliform bacteria, conductivity, pH, and concentrations of nutrients (NO3-, PO(4)3-, and NH3). Campylobacters were isolated more frequently and larger numbers were present during the summer months, similar to the occurrence of clinical cases of campylobacteriosis in this region. A multivariate model showed that the levels were significantly influenced by increasing precipitation, which also peaked in the summer. The results indicate that loading from both human and domestic animal waste may be high in the watershed studied during the summer months. Mixed-use watersheds supporting agriculture production, human populations, and wildlife may be at risk for contamination by campylobacters and may be an important route for human exposure.

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