The latest UMHS research project findings have been released. The project undertook to determine the general safety of the drinking water on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts by searching for the possible presence of certain disease causing bacteria.

An average person is supposed to drink eight 8-ounce glasses or 1.9 liters of drinking water every day (see Mayo Clinic current guideline). In most countries around the world drinking water is free of disease causing bacteria. However, countries that cannot ensure the safety of their drinking water advise citizens to use bottled or boiled water.

UMHS Student Researchers
UMHS medical student research participants (l-r): Anthony Moon, Denise Ellis, Nalin Lalwani, and Raven Price.

Watery diarrheas are a common occurrence in several places around the world as well as on cruise ships. It is caused by any of the multiple pathogens that may be transmitted through contaminated water, especially water that is contaminated with fecal material. The presence of Escherichia coli or E coli, coliforms, a normal gut flora of the body, is an indication of fecal contamination. Certain strains of Escherichia coli are toxic to humans. It is therefore critical to regularly test the drinking water supply for the possible presence of bacteria and toxins.

According to the CDC, Escherichia coli strain O157:H7 causes 73,000 illnesses in the United States annually (Rangel, 2004). Dr. James Adekeye, former UMHS Professor of Microbiology, undertook this study to investigate water quality in terms of infectious agents in the local St. Kitts drinking water supply and to further determine whether there were pathogenic strains present.

Six UMHS medical students (Nalin Lalwani, Raven Price, Anthony Moon, Dennis Ellis, Edidong David and Elise Landa) assisted with the research, collecting water samples from around the island. Ms Dacia Fraser, the Lab Technical Assistant, together with Dr. Adekeye, isolated then characterized several coliforms indicating the presence of possible fecal contamination or toxin forming strains of Escherichia coli in the water samples. Upon the departure of Dr. James Adekeye to take up a new position as Professor of Microbiology with St. Matthews School of Veterinarian Medicine in the Cayman Islands; colleague and project collaborator, Dr. Girish J. Kotwal, UMHS Professor of Microbiology and Biochemistry, was then entrusted to assist with supervising the task of re-growing and performing the genotypic characterization of the isolates. Four of the six students participated in the release of DNA from the individual cultures, marking the first time DNA from any organism was prepared in the UMHS Microbiology Lab.

The samples were sent to a bacteriologist at the Food and Drug Administration in the USA where they were run through a few multiplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays (Cebula, 1995). All the samples had amplifiable DNA; however the researchers reported that none of them were shigatoxigenic E. coli strains.

The report may not seem exciting as none of the isolates are from strains that produce shiga-like toxin; nonetheless the trail to study microbial DNA has been mapped. This will impact other ongoing UMHS research projects such as the study of molds in the air, as well as the search for other strains of bacteria which could produce diarrhea causing toxins. [Submitted by Dr. G. Kotwal]

Stay tuned to The UMHS Pulse blog for more UMHS research updates.

The UMHS Research Committee is pleased to announce that this case report has now been published in the latest edition of the online open access journal Virology & Mycology (ISSN: 2161-0517).

Citation & Link:
Adekeye JO, Ellis D, Kotwal GJ (2014) Significant Presence of Nontoxinogenic Coliforms in the Drinking Water Supply of the Mattingly Residential Area of St. Kitts Suggests that the Most Common Cause of Gastroenteritis could be Transmission due to Enteric Viruses in Drinking Water. Virol Mycol 3:126. doi: 10.4172/2161-0517.1000126

1. Rangel JM, Sparling PH, Crowe C, Griffin PM, Swerdlow DL. (2004) Epidemiology of Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreaks, United States, 1982–2002. Emerg Infect Dis [serial on the Internet]. 2004 Apr [date cited]. Available from
DOI: 10.3201/eid1104.040739

2. Cebula, T., Payne, W., & Feng, P. (1995). Simultaneous identification of strains of Escherichia coli serotype O157:H7 and their Shiga-like toxin type by mismatch amplification mutation assay-multiplex PCR. Journal Of Clinical Microbiology, 33(1), 248-250.


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