Spatial and Temporal Drivers of Zoonotic Pathogen Contamination of an Agricultural Watershed
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In regions where animal agriculture is prominent, such as southern Alberta, higher rates of gastrointestinal illness have been reported when compared with nonagricultural regions. This difference in the rate of illness is thought to be a result of increased zoonotic pathogen exposure through environmental sources such as water. In this study, temporal and spatial factors associated with bacterial pathogen contamination of the Oldman River, which transverses this region, were analyzed using classification and regression tree analysis. Significantly higher levels of fecal indicators; more frequent isolations of Campylobacter spp., Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Salmonella enterica spp.; and higher rates of detection of pig-specific Bacteroides markers occurred at downstream sites than at upstream sites, suggesting additive stream inputs. Fecal indicator densities were also significantly higher when any one of these three bacterial pathogens was present and where there were higher total animal manure units; however, occasionally pathogens were present when fecal indicator levels were low or undetectable. Overall, Salmonella spp., Campylobacter spp., and E. coli O157:H7 presence was associated with season, animal manure units, and total rainfall on the day of sampling and 3 d in advance of sampling. Several of the environmental variables analyzed in this study appear to influence pathogen prevalence and therefore may be useful in predicting water quality and safety and in the improvement of watershed management practices in this and other agricultural regions.