Elgin St. Thomas Public Health – Elevated Levels of Bacteria in Road Side Ditches

Elgin St. Thomas Public HealthSt. Thomas, March 27, 2013 – Elgin St. Thomas Public Health reminds people to avoid direct contact with surface water in road side ditches and other low lying areas as it may contain bacteria, viruses and parasites.

Staff of the Municipality of Central Elgin have been carrying out laboratory testing of water from road side ditches in the area that includes Coulter Avenue and Centennial Avenue, in Central Elgin.

Test results for Total Coliforms that were reported by the laboratory were higher than acceptable ranges. Some coliform bacteria are commonly isolated from fecal material (stool) found in the intestines of humans and other warm-blooded animals. Coliform bacteria may also be found in plants, soil and sediments. These test results therefore do not necessarily mean that the material found in the road side ditches is contaminated with human feces. However, this is a possibility.

Escherichia coli or E. coli is a well-known type of coliform bacterium. The presence of E. coli is an indication of sewage or fecal contamination as these bacteria are commonly isolated from the intestinal tract of warm-blood animals, including humans.

Exposure to human sewage can cause human illness. The health effects of exposure to disease causing bacteria, viruses, and protozoa (we are not talking drinking water) are varied. If people drink water containing these organisms, they commonly experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea that lasts a few days. However, in susceptible individuals such as infants, the elderly, and immuno-compromised individuals, the effects may be more severe, chronic (e.g., kidney damage) or even fatal. Bacteria (e.g., Shigella and Campylobacter), viruses (e.g., norovirus and hepatitis A virus), and protozoa (e.g., Giardia and Cryptosporidium) can be responsible for severe gastrointestinal illness. Other pathogens may infect the lungs, skin, eyes, central nervous system, or liver. Organisms can be transported away from the site by vectors such as insects, rodents and birds.

The Municipality is in the process of determining the source and extent of contamination. In the meantime, it is important for the public to know that these results show there is a potential for people who come into contact with water in the roadside ditches to get sick so they should avoid them.

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