Nav: Home

Harmful bacteria thrived in post-Hurricane Harvey floodwaters

August 08, 2018

Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on August 25, 2017, bringing more than 50 inches of rain and extreme flooding to the city of Houston. In addition to wreaking havoc on buildings and infrastructure, urban floodwaters harbor hidden menaces in the form of bacteria that can cause disease. Now, researchers have surveyed the microbes that lurked in Houston floodwaters, both inside and outside of homes. They report their results in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

One of the most destructive hurricanes to hit the U.S. since Katrina in 2005, Harvey damaged more than 100,000 homes in the Houston area. In addition, the storm flooded numerous wastewater treatment plants, causing widespread discharge of untreated or partially treated sewage. Raw sewage contains fecal bacteria, like E. coli, and other potential pathogens, such as Salmonella enterica and Clostridium perfringens. Also, bacteria in sewage can possess elevated levels of antibiotic-resistance genes, which they can share with other microbes in the environment. Few studies have examined pathogenic bacterial exposures and antibiotic resistance in residential communities affected by urban floodwaters. So, Lauren Stadler and her colleagues wanted to survey the bacteria in post-Harvey floodwaters on Houston streets, inside homes and in bayous, as well as in sediments left by the receding waters.

The researchers found that E. coli levels in two of Houston's major bayous were significantly elevated in the immediate aftermath of Harvey compared with numbers obtained before the hurricane, but gradually decreased over two months after the storm to pre-storm levels. Similarly, antibiotic-resistance gene levels were highest three days after the storm. The team next compared microbial communities in floodwaters both inside and outside homes. The highest levels of fecal bacteria, human pathogens and antibiotic resistance genes occurred in homes with stagnant floodwater inside. When Stadler and coworkers analyzed sediment samples from public parks and residential communities, they detected abundant possible pathogens, but they were different from the pathogens found in flood and bayou waters. The study indicates that residents and relief workers should exercise caution to prevent coming into contact with harmful microbes in the aftermath of extreme floods, especially in stagnant indoor waters, the researchers say.
The authors acknowledge funding from the National Science Foundation.

The abstract that accompanies this study is available here.

The American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, is a not-for-profit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. ACS is a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related information and research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. ACS does not conduct research, but publishes and publicizes peer-reviewed scientific studies. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C, and Columbus, Ohio.

To automatically receive news releases from the American Chemical Society, contact

Follow us on Twitter | Facebook

American Chemical Society

Related Bacteria Articles:

Conducting shell for bacteria
Under anaerobic conditions, certain bacteria can produce electricity. This behavior can be exploited in microbial fuel cells, with a special focus on wastewater treatment schemes.
Controlling bacteria's necessary evil
Until now, scientists have only had a murky understanding of how these relationships arise.
Bacteria take a deadly risk to survive
Bacteria need mutations -- changes in their DNA code -- to survive under difficult circumstances.
How bacteria hunt other bacteria
A bacterial species that hunts other bacteria has attracted interest as a potential antibiotic, but exactly how this predator tracks down its prey has not been clear.
Chlamydia: How bacteria take over control
To survive in human cells, chlamydiae have a lot of tricks in store.
Stress may protect -- at least in bacteria
Antibiotics harm bacteria and stress them. Trimethoprim, an antibiotic, inhibits the growth of the bacterium Escherichia coli and induces a stress response.
'Pulling' bacteria out of blood
Magnets instead of antibiotics could provide a possible new treatment method for blood infection.
New findings detail how beneficial bacteria in the nose suppress pathogenic bacteria
Staphylococcus aureus is a common colonizer of the human body.
Understanding your bacteria
New insight into bacterial cell division could lead to advancements in the fight against harmful bacteria.
Bacteria are individualists
Cells respond differently to lack of nutrients.

Related Bacteria Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Failure can feel lonely and final. But can we learn from failure, even reframe it, to feel more like a temporary setback? This hour, TED speakers on changing a crushing defeat into a stepping stone. Guests include entrepreneur Leticia Gasca, psychology professor Alison Ledgerwood, astronomer Phil Plait, former professional athlete Charly Haversat, and UPS training manager Jon Bowers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".