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Enteric viruses and fecal bacteria indicators to assess groundwater quality and suitability for irrigation

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According to Italian Ministerial Decree No. 185 of 12 June 2003, water is considered suitable for irrigation if levels of fecal bacteria (i.e., Escherichia coli and Salmonella) are within certain parameters. The detection of other microorganisms is not required. The aim of this study is to determine the bacteriological quality of groundwater used for irrigation and the occurrence of enteric viruses (Norovirus, Enterovirus, Rotavirus, Hepatovirus A), and to compare the presence of viruses with the fecal bacteria indicators. A total of 182 wells was analyzed. Widespread fecal contamination of Apulian aquifers was detected (141 wells; 77.5%) by the presence of fecal bacteria (i.e., E. coli, Salmonella, total coliforms, and enterococci). Considering bacteria included in Ministerial Decree No. 185, the water from 35 (19.2%) wells was unsuitable for irrigation purposes. Among 147 wells with water considered suitable, Norovirus, Rotavirus, and Enterovirus were detected in 23 (15.6%) wells. No Hepatovirus A was isolated. Consequently, 58 wells (31.9%) posed a potential infectious risk for irrigation use. This study revealed the inadequacy of fecal bacteria indicators to predict the occurrence of viruses in groundwater and it is the first in Italy to describe the presence of human rotaviruses in well water used for irrigation.




De Giglio, O., Caggiano, G., Bagordo, F., Barbuti, G., Brigida, S., Lugoli, F., … Montagna, M. T. (2017). Enteric viruses and fecal bacteria indicators to assess groundwater quality and suitability for irrigation. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(6).

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