USDA ARS Study Shows Cows Not Most Often the Cause of E. coli

Scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture have identified E. coli sources that suggest pathogens in local waterways in some parts of California are carried more through runoff from urban areas instead of from animal production facilities. While most strains of the bacteria are non-pathogenic - it is monitored by public health officials as a water quality indicator. When E. coli is found in lakes, rivers and other water bodies - cows are blamed many times. Agricultural Research Service scientists collected 450 water and sediment samples from 20 different places along California's middle Santa Ana River Watershed - including urban areas, livestock feeding areas, parks, National Forest lands and three wastewater treatment plans. The scientists extracted the bacteria from each sample - identifying 600 different E. coli isolates. Scientists found the most variety of different types of the bacteria in runoff from areas with a lot of urban development or human activities. They tested each isolate for antibiotic resistance - discovering a majority resistant to two antibiotics - rifampicin and tetracycline. They also found 24-percent of the bacteria from urban runoff was resistant to as many as seven antibiotics.

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