Low antimicrobial resistance in Escherichia coli isolates from two large Austrian alpine karstic spring catchments

Iris Schachner-Gröhs, Theresa Strohhammer, Christina Frick, Lena Campostrini, Rita B Linke, Gernot Zarfel, Andreas H Farnleitner, Alexander K T Kirschner

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

1 Citation (Scopus)


The increasing occurrence of antibiotic resistant bacteria poses a threat to global public health. Clinically relevant resistances also spread through the environment. Aquatic ecosystems in particular represent important dispersal pathways. In the past, pristine water resources have not been a study focus, although ingestion of resistant bacteria through water consumption constitutes a potentially important transmission route. This study assessed antibiotic resistances in Escherichia coli populations in two large well-protected and well-managed Austrian karstic spring catchments representing essential groundwater resources for water supply. E. coli were detected seasonally only during the summer period. By screening a representative number of 551 E. coli isolates from 13 sites in two catchments, it could be shown that the prevalence of antibiotic resistance in this study area is low. 3.4 % of the isolates showed resistances to one or two antibiotic classes, 0.5 % were resistant to three antibiotic classes. No resistances to critical and last-line antibiotics were detected. By integrating fecal pollution assessment and microbial source tracking, we could infer that ruminants were the main hosts for antibiotic resistant bacteria in the studied catchment areas. A comparison with other studies on antibiotic resistances in karstic or mountainous springs highlighted the low contamination status of the model catchments studied here, most likely due to the high protection and careful management while other, less pristine catchments showed much higher antibiotic resistances. We demonstrate that studying easily accessible karstic springs allows a holistic view on large catchments concerning the extent and origin of fecal pollution as well as antibiotic resistance. This representative monitoring approach is also in line with the proposed update of the EU Groundwater Directive (GWD).

Original languageEnglish
Article number164949
Pages (from-to)164949
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date16 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2023


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