E. coli from dishcloths as an indicator of hygienic status in households. Journal of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Development In Press, 2015 | doi:10.2166/washdev.2015.119
Authors: V. Keshav, A. Mathee, N. Naicker, A. Swart and T. G. Barnard
E. coli is routinely used as an indicator of fecal pollution although some strains are capable of causing diarrhea. E. coli was used as a model organism for this study to assess the possibility that dishcloths used in households could contribute to the occurrence of diarrhea. Dishcloths (n = 424) were collected from five suburbs in Johannesburg (South Africa) as part of a larger Health, Environment & Development (HEAD) study. Results for the total coliforms indicated that on average 81% of the samples analyzed had total coliform counts of more than 1,000 cfu/100 ml per 25 cm2 cloth.
The E. coli results indicated that 40% of the samples had culturable E. coli present with 17% of the samples showing the presence of >1,000 cfu/100 ml per 25 cm2 cloth. Except for the samples from Bertrams all the pathogenic E. coli genes could be detected in various combinations in the different samples. Since all the diarrheagenic E. coli strains detected can be accepted as culturable due to the enrichment step, there is a clear danger of contamination of food and surfaces exposed to the contaminated dishcloths. The results indicated that there is a need for public education regarding hygiene in the households, especially if the same dishcloth is used for various tasks.