Efforts to provide water to developing communities in South Africa have resulted in various types of water supplies being used. This study examined the relationship between the type of water supply and the quality of water used. Source (communal taps, private outdoor and indoor taps) and point-of-use water samples were examined for heterotrophic plate counts (HPC), total and faecal coliforms, E. coli, and coliphages. Ten percent of samples were also analysed for enteric viruses, Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Approximately 320 households were included in a case-control study. In addition, a cross-sectional study was conducted. Both studies examined the relationship between different types of water facilities and diarrhoea among pre-school children. The source water was of good microbial quality, but water quality was found to have deteriorated significantly after handling and storage in both case and control households, exceeding drinking water quality guideline values by 1-6 orders of magnitude. Coliphage counts were low for all water samples tested. Enteric viruses and Cryptosporidium oocysts were not detected. Giardia cysts were detected on one occasion in case and control in-house samples. Comparisons of whether in-house water, after handling and storage, complied with water quality guideline values demonstrated households using communal taps to have significantly poorer quality than households using private outdoor or indoor taps for HPC and E. coli2 = 14.9, P = 0.001; χ2 = 6.6, P = 0.04 respectively). A similar trend (although not statistically significant) was observed for the other microbial indicators. The cross-sectional study demonstrated an apparent decrease in health risk associated with private outdoor taps in comparison to communal taps. This study suggests that a private outdoor tap is the minimum level of water supply in order to ensure the supply of safe water to developing communities.

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