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What is fecal coliform?

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Quick Answer

Fecal coliform are bacteria that can cause hepatitis, dysentery, cholera, ear infection and typhoid fever, according to the North Dakota Department of Health. The bacteria are commonly found in natural bodies of water, notes Clemson University.

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Most of the bacteria classified as fecal coliform are not harmful to humans as they are a normal part of the human digestive system, states Clemson University. They can make their way into water systems via improper water treatment and runoff. The diseases caused by pathogenic forms of the bacteria are most often contracted after drinking water with a high fecal coliform count. The bacteria can also enter the body through cuts in the skin, nose, mouth or ears.

The EPA has set regulations for the fecal coliform count for water, notes Clemson University. The limits set in these regulations depend on the intended use of the water. To test for fecal coliform, water is collected in a sterile container and filtered, and the filter is placed in a sterile petri dish and incubated for 24 hours. The resultant bacteria growth during incubation allows experts to determine the amount of fecal coliform in the water. Water intended for human consumption may not contain any fecal coliform. Most other water may contain a small amount of the bacteria.

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