Tracing the animal sources of surface water contamination with Campylobacter jejuni and Campylobacter coli

Annemieke C. Mulder*, Eelco Franz, Sharona de Rijk, Moyke A.J. Versluis, Claudia Coipan, Ralph Buij, Gerard Müskens, Miriam Koene, Roan Pijnacker, Birgitta Duim, Linda van der Graaf-van Bloois, Kees Veldman, Jaap A. Wagenaar, Aldert L. Zomer, Franciska M. Schets, Hetty Blaak, Lapo Mughini-Gras

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Campylobacter jejuni and C. coli, the primary agents of human bacterial gastroenteritis worldwide, are widespread in surface water. Several animal sources contribute to surface water contamination with Campylobacter, but their relative contributions thus far remained unclear. Here, the prevalence, genotype diversity, and potential animal sources of C. jejuni and C. coli strains in surface water in the Netherlands were investigated. It was also assessed whether the contribution of the different animal sources varied according to surface water type (i.e. agricultural water, surface water at discharge points of wastewater treatment plants [WWTPs], and official recreational water), season, and local livestock (poultry, pig, ruminant) density. For each surface water type, 30 locations spread over six areas with either high or low density of poultry, ruminants, or pigs, were sampled once every season in 2018-2019. Campylobacter prevalence was highest in agricultural waters (77%), and in autumn and winter (74%), and lowest in recreational waters (46%) and in summer (54%). In total, 76 C. jejuni and 177 C. coli water isolates were whole-genome sequenced. Most C. coli water isolates (78.5%) belonged to hitherto unidentified clones when using the seven-locus sequence type (ST) scheme, while only 11.8% of the C. jejuni isolates had unidentified STs. The origin of these isolates, as defined by core-genome multi-locus sequence typing (cgMLST), was inferred by comparison with Campylobacter strain collections from meat-producing poultry, laying hens, adult cattle, veal calves, small ruminants, pigs, and wild birds. Water isolates were mainly attributed to wild birds (C. jejuni: 60.0%; C. coli: 93.7%) and meat-producing poultry (C. jejuni: 18.9%; C. coli: 5.6%). Wild bird contribution was high among isolates from recreational waters and WWTP discharge points, and in areas with low poultry (C. coli) or high ruminant (C. jejuni) densities. The contribution of meat-producing poultry was high in areas with high density of poultry, springtime, agricultural waters and WWTP discharge points. While wild birds and poultry were the main contributors to Campylobacter contamination in surface water, their contribution differed significantly by water type, season, and local poultry and ruminant densities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116421
JournalWater Research
Early online date20 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2020


  • Campylobacter coli
  • Campylobacter jejuni
  • livestock, season
  • source-attribution
  • surface water type


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