Summary Objective To identify the level of contamination with thermotolerant coliforms (ThC), intestinal helminth eggs and protozoan parasites in water spinach (Ipomoea aquatica) cultivated in a wastewater-fed lake in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Methods The investigation was carried out from July 2004 to May 2005 in Boeng Cheung Ek lake, a main recipient of wastewater from the city of Phnom Penh. Water spinach samples were collected near two wastewater entry points in the northern part of the lake and near a wastewater exit point in the southern part of the lake, where water is discharged from the lake into a stream. Water spinach samples were harvested at each of the three locations with and without wastewater contact according to the normal practices of farmers, and analysed for ThC, protozoan parasites (Giardia, Cryptosporidium and Cyclospora), and helminth eggs (Ascaris lumbricoides, Trichuris trichura and hookworm) using standard methods. Wastewater samples were also collected at each of the three locations and analysed for ThC and helminth eggs. Results High concentrations of ThC (approximately 105–107/g) were found in water spinach samples. ThC mean counts did not differ significantly, neither between sample types at each location, nor between locations. ThC mean concentration of water spinach samples collected in the rainy season of 2005 was higher than that in the dry season of 2004. Protozoan parasites were detected in the samples from all three locations and in water spinach harvested with and without wastewater contact. Giardia spp. were present in 56% (20) of samples with an average cyst concentration of 6.6/g. Mean counts of Giardia were not significantly associated with wastewater contact status of water spinach. Cryptosporidium oocysts were found in 17% (six) of samples with an average concentration of 0.5 oocyst per gram of water spinach. Cyclospora oocysts were detected in 8% (three) of samples. Four (11%) water spinach samples contained helminth eggs (average concentration: 0.1 egg per gram). Water samples contained approximately 104–107 ThC per 100 ml and a mean of 27.4 helminth eggs per litre. There was a 2–3 log reduction of ThC between the water samples collected at the wastewater entry and exit point(s) of the lake. Conclusions Water spinach cultivated in the lake was highly contaminated with feces, as indicated by high ThC concentrations and the presence of protozoan parasites. A reduction in ThC numbers almost to WHO guideline levels for irrigation water occurred through natural biological and physical processes in the lake, as shown by differences in ThC counts at wastewater entry and exit points.
Division of Enteric Infections, Department of Microbiology, National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, Hanoi, Vietnam 2:
Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Frederiksberg, Denmark