The microbial quality of several, usually untreated, surface domestic water sources, used by rural communities in the Venda Region of South Africa, was assessed to gauge their fitness for human consumption and to highlight the possible impact of waterborne diseases. The water sources studied were six points on the Levubu River and the rivers Mutale, Ngwedi, Tshinane, Makonde, Mutshindudi and Mudaswali. Total and faecal coliform, heterotrophic bacteria, enterococci and coliphage counts were used as indicators/surrogates to estimate the degree of bacterial and viral contamination respectively by standard methods. The presence of potential bacterial agents of diarrhoea such as Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter, Plesiomonas, Aeromonas and Vibrio was also determined. Results showed that the ranges of counts with regard to all the water sources investigated were 2.9 × 102 - 6.3 × 104 CFU/100 mL for faecal coliforms, 6.0 × 102 - 3.7 × 104 CFU/100 mL for total coliforms, 1.8 × 102 - 1.3 × 106 CFU/mL for heterotrophic plate count, 1.0 × 101 - 3.7 × 104 CFU/100 mL for enterococci and 0-13 PFU/100 mL for coliphages. These values are far higher than the acceptable maximum limits prescribed for South Africa by the Dept of Water & Forestry and the Water Research Commission - 0 CFU/100 mL, 5 CFU/100 mL, 1.0 × 102 CFU/mL, 0 CFU/100 mL and 1 PFU/100 mL for faecal coliforms, total coliforms, heterotrophic bacteria, enterococci and coliphages respectively. Salmonella, Shigella, Vibrio cholerae, Campylobacter, Aeromonas and Plesiomonas were isolated from several of the water sources investigated. The use of these water sources for drinking and domestic purposes poses a serious threat to the health and well being of the users and calls for urgent government intervention.

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