What is E. Coli?

Summer is in full swing here in the Tetons and what better way to beat the heat than a dip in the river or a float? While these activities are enjoyed by everyone, think twice before jumping in! The Environmental Health Department wants to remind the community and recreation users about the dangers of Escherichia coli in our waterways. E. coli is a group of coliform bacteria that is found in many animals’ organs and in fecal matter. E. coli is used as an indicator for fecal contamination and the presence of it signifies the presence of other concerning coliform bacteria. There are more than 700 strains of E. coli and while most stains are harmless, some can cause serious symptoms in humans such as stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Some of the ways people can become ill from E. coli include eating contaminated food, ingesting contaminated water and close contact with someone that is already sick.

During the summer of 2017 Fish and Flat Creeks were sampled by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, and it was determined they had elevated levels of E. coli. This prompted the WYDEQ to list the streams as impaired for exceeding the recreational standard for E. coli concentrations. Due to the limited data collected on E. coli in our waterways, recreational users should be cautious when enjoying any of our waterways and avoid ingesting water if possible. This is especially challenging when managing young children, but also that much more important. Pathogens are often present in natural waterbodies, including pristine mountain streams. Always treat water before it is ingested.

This summer two University of Wyoming graduate students are studying E. coli and sources of fecal contamination in local creeks. They are comparing aquatic bacterial communities and local fecal samples to determine potential sources of contamination. Additionally, they will further characterize E. coli from Fish and Flat Creeks to help determine the hosts of these bacteria. They hope this study and its findings will inform the public and water resource managers about E. coli and fecal contamination, so we can all do our part in helping to improve water quality in our community and continue to recreate safely. The results are expected to be finalized this fall.

For a complete list of water quality conditions in Wyoming, click here.

For more information about E. coli, click here.

Photo of Escherichia coli