This study compared the behaviour of pathogenic bacteria (Salmonella and Listeria), faecal indicators (faecal coliforms FC and faecal streptococci FS), somatic coliphages and F-specific bacteriophages in an urban river contaminated with domestic sewage and surface run-off from agricultural and cattle grazing lands. The influence of physical and chemical parameters was also investigated as well as Salmonella and Listeria serotype diversity and drug resistance patterns. Faecal contamination was high (FC = 5 × 106 - 4 × 103 CFU/100 mL; FS = 4 × 105 - 2 × 102 CFU/100 mL) but decreased along the river by up to 99.5% following 47% reduction of BOD5 and 91% increase of DO, both associated with the self purification process. Somatic coliphages (6.9 × 105 - 1 × 103 PFU/100 mL) and F-specific bacteriophages (5.8 × 104 - 65 PFU/100 mL) behaved similarly with reductions of 99.85%. Salmonella and Listeria were isolated at all sampling points with highest frequencies (91-100%) at those with sewage discharge and rural water run-off. The lowest value (35%) occurred at the end of the river where it was (a) wider and shallower, (b) it ran slower and was warmer (29-33°C), (c) the pH was alkaline (8.2-9.9), (d) electrical conductivity (2,200-5,800 μS/cm) and DO (6-13 mg/L) were highest. Pathogen decline did not follow exactly FC and FS reduction patterns, while physical and chemical parameters apparently did not interfere with Salmonella and Listeria survival to the same extent as they did with FC and FS. Somatic coliphages and F-specific bacteriophages did not show more resistance than bacterial indicators. Catchment area contribution seemed to be more significant for pathogens than for indicators and rainy periods increased pathogenic isolation frequency. Five Salmonella serotypes and five serogroups were identified. S. hadar and serogroup E were predominant (50%); both are increasing in Brazil apparently from animal sources. Nearly 25% of Salmonella strains were resistant to at least one of twelve antimicrobials tested. Resistance to tetracycline was common (17%) followed by cefalotine (3%). Five Listeria serogroups were isolated and L. grayi (43%) and L. monocytogenes (9%) were present at all points. Listeria drug resistance rates were 100% for oxaciline followed by clindamicine (97%), tetracycline (34%) and vancomycin (32%). Both pathogenic bacterial strains presented resistance to the same drugs observed in humans and warm blood animals but the high number of sensitive strains and the low numbers of strains resistant to more than one drug was not expected because of the heavy anthropogenic impact in this basin.

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