Contamination of watercourses with fecal matter represents a significant risk to public health due to the associated risk from human pathogens (e.g. Escherichia coli O157, norovirus). In addition, water contamination may also perpetuate the re-infection cycle of human pathogens within domesticated and wild animal populations. While diffuse pollution from agricultural fields has been identified as a major source of these pathogens, the relationship between livestock grazing intensity and subsequent pathogen persistence in water is not well established. Our aim was to critically evaluate the importance of land use management on the activity of E.coli O157 in freshwaters collected from a livestock dominated catchment in the UK. We inoculated replicate batches of both filter-sterilised and non-sterile freshwaters with a chromosomally lux-marked E.coli O157 and monitored pathogen survival and activity over a 5 d period. Our results indicate that the greatest risk for pathogens entering freshwater is probably associated with high intensity livestock areas, although their subsequent survival is greatest in waters from low intensity livestock areas. We ascribe this enhanced persistence in the latter to reduced competition and predation within these aquatic environments. These results have serious implications for the reliability of pathogen risk exposure maps which are based on grazing intensity alone.
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