Antibiotic Resistance Profiles to Determine Sources of Fecal Contamination in a Rural Virginia Watershed

J Environ Qual. Jul-Aug 2002;31(4):1300-8. doi: 10.2134/jeq2002.1300.


Antibiotic resistance analysis (ARA) was used to determine if enterococci of human origin were present in a stream (Spout Run) that passes through a rural nonsewered community (Millwood, VA). Millwood consists of 82 homes, all served by individual septic systems, and Spout Run drains a 5,800-ha karst topography watershed that contains large populations of livestock and wildlife. Periodic monitoring by state regulatory officials had resulted in Spout Run being placed on the Virginia impaired stream list and Millwood being categorized as an at-risk community. Stream samples were collected monthly and analyzed for fecal coliforms and enterococci (May 1999-May 2000); ARA was performed on enterococci stream isolates on a quarterly basis. All 117 stream samples were positive for fecal coliforms, and 32% exceeded the Virginia recreational water standard (1,000 fecal coliforms/100 mL). A library of 1,174 known source Enterococcus isolate antibiotic resistance profiles was constructed, and yielded correct classification rates of 94.6% for 203 human isolates, 93.7% for 734 livestock isolates, and 87.8% for 237 wildlife isolates. Antibiotic resistance analysis of 2,012 enterococcal isolates recovered from stream samples indicated isolates of human origin appeared throughout the stream as it passed through Millwood, with a yearly average of approximately 10% human, 40% wildlife, and 50% livestock. There were no human origin isolates in samples collected upstream from Millwood, and the percent human origin isolates declined downstream from Millwood. While a human signature was found in Spout Run, it was small compared with the proportion of isolates from livestock and wildlife.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Drug Resistance*
  • Enterobacteriaceae
  • Enterococcus / drug effects*
  • Enterococcus / physiology
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Humans
  • Recreation
  • Reference Values
  • Virginia
  • Water Microbiology*
  • Water Pollutants / analysis*


  • Water Pollutants