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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2009 Nov;75(21):6736-44. doi: 10.1128/AEM.00486-09. Epub 2009 Sep 4.

Thermotolerant coliforms are not a good surrogate for Campylobacter spp. in environmental water.

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Department of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, Faculté de Médecine de l'Université de Sherbrooke, 3001, 12e avenue Nord, Sherbrooke, Québec J1H 5N4, Canada.


This study aimed to assess the importance of quantitatively detecting Campylobacter spp. in environmental surface water. The prevalence and the quantity of Campylobacter spp., thermotolerant coliforms, and Escherichia coli in 2,471 samples collected weekly, over a 2-year period, from 13 rivers and 12 streams in the Eastern Townships, Québec, Canada, were determined. Overall, 1,071 (43%), 1,481 (60%), and 1,463 (59%) samples were positive for Campylobacter spp., thermotolerant coliforms, and E. coli, respectively. There were weak correlations between the weekly distributions of Campylobacter spp. and thermotolerant coliforms (Spearman's rho coefficient = 0.27; P = 0.008) and between the quantitative levels of the two classes of organisms (Kendall tau-b correlation coefficient = 0.233; P < 0.0001). Well water samples from the Eastern Townships were also tested. Five (10%) of 53 samples from private surface wells were positive for Campylobacter jejuni, of which only 2 were positive for thermotolerant coliforms. These findings suggest that microbial monitoring of raw water by using only fecal indicator organisms is not sufficient for assessing the occurrence or the load of thermophilic Campylobacter spp. Insights into the role of environmental water as sources for sporadic Campylobacter infection will require genus-specific monitoring techniques.

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