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Evaluating Human Sensory Perceptions and the Compartment Bag Test Assays as Proxies for the Presence and Concentration of Escherichia coli in Drinking Water in Western Kenya

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  • 1 School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York;
  • | 2 Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostics, Program in International Nutrition, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York;
  • | 3 Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois;
  • | 4 Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Maseno University, Kisumu, Kenya

We compared the concentrations of Escherichia coli quantified with Colilert and the compartment bag test (CBT) in the source water and household stored drinking water (SDW) of 35 households in western Kenya. We also investigated the associations of the perceptions of organoleptic properties and overall quality with ≥ 1 MPN/100 mL E. coli in SDW. Participants who rated the taste or smell of their SDW “< 5” on a 1 = “poor” to 5 = “excellent” Likert scale were 8.71 or 7.04 times more likely, respectively, to have ≥ 1 MPN/100 mL E. coli. Organoleptic properties are innate, albeit imperfect, indicators of fecal pollution in water. Within their shared quantification range, concentrations of E. coli enumerated with Colilert and CBT were similar and had a significant correlation coefficient, 0.896 (95% confidence interval = 0.691–1.101). The methods had moderate agreement within the World Health Organization’s health risk levels (Cohen’s Kappa coefficient = 0.640). In low-resource settings, CBT provides comparable assessments of E. coli concentrations to Colilert.

Author Notes

Address correspondence to Yolanda M. Brooks, Cornell University, 433 Campus Avenue, Hollister Hall Room 468, Ithaca, NY 14850. E-mail: yb86@cornell.edu

Financial support: This research was funded by Cornell University’s David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future (ACSF) and the National Institute of Mental Health R21 MH108444.

Authors’ addresses: Yolanda M. Brooks and Ruth E. Richardson, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, E-mails: yb86@cornell.edu and rer26@cornell.edu. Shalean M. Collins, Godfred O. Boateng, and Sera L. Young, Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, and Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostics, Program in International Nutrition, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, E-mails: shalean.collins@northwestern.edu, godfred.boateng@northwestern.edu and sera.young@northwestern.edu. Patrick Mbullo, Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, and Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Maseno University, Kisumu, Kenya, E-mail: pmbullo@gmail.com.

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