Mennonites reside in clusters, do not use modern sewage systems and consume water from non-municipal sources. The purpose of this study is to assess risk of Escherichia coli exposure via consumption of non-municipal waters in Mennonite versus non-Mennonite rural households.
Results were reviewed for non-municipal water samples collected by the local health department from Mennonite and non-Mennonite lifestyle households from 1998 through 2012. Water contamination was examined with the help of two study variables: water quality (potable, polluted) and gastrointestinal (GI) health risk (none, low, high). These variables were analyzed for association with lifestyle (Mennonite, non-Mennonite) and season (fall, winter, spring, summer) of sample collection. Data were split into two periods to adjust for the ceiling effect of laboratory instrument.
From the entire cohort, 82 % samples were polluted and 46 % samples contained E. coli, which is consistent with high GI health risk. In recent years (2009 through 2012), the presence of total coliforms was higher in non-Mennonites (39 %, P = 0.018) and presence of E. coli was higher in Mennonites (P = 0.012). Most polluted samples were collected during summer (45 %, P = 0.019) and had high GI health risk (51 %, P = 0.008) as compared to other seasons.
Majority of non-municipal waters in this region are polluted, consuming those poses a high GI health risk and contamination is prevalent in all households consuming these waters. An association of E. coli exposure with the Mennonite lifestyle was limited to recent years. Seasons with high heat index and increased surface runoffs were the riskiest to consume non-municipal waters.
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