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Wastewater discharge and agricultural activities may pose microbial risks to natural water sources. The impact of different sources can be assessed by water quality modelling. The aim of this study was to use hydrological and hydrodynamic models to illustrate the risk of exposing grazing animals to faecal pollutants in natural water sources, using three zoonotic faecal pathogens as model microbes and fictitious pastures in Sweden as examples. Microbial contamination by manure from fertilisation and grazing was modelled by use of a hydrological model (HYPE) and a hydrodynamic model (MIKE 3 FM), and microbial contamination from human wastewater was modelled by application of both models in a backwards process. The faecal pathogens Salmonella spp., verotoxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7 (VTEC) and Cryptosporidium parvum were chosen as model organisms. The pathogen loads on arable land and pastures were estimated based on pathogen concentration in cattle faeces, herd prevalence and within-herd prevalence. Contamination from human wastewater discharge was simulated by estimating the number of pathogens required from a fictitious wastewater discharge to reach a concentration high enough to cause infection in cattle using the points on the fictitious pastures as their primary source of drinking water. In the scenarios for pathogens from animal sources, none of the simulated concentrations of salmonella exceeded the concentrations needed to infect adult cattle. For VTEC, most of the simulated concentrations exceeded the concentration needed to infect calves. For C. parvum, all the simulated concentrations exceeded the concentration needed to infect calves. The pathogen loads needed at the release points for human wastewater to achieve infectious doses for cattle were mostly above the potential loads of salmonella and VTEC estimated to be present in a 24-h overflow from a medium-size Swedish wastewater treatment plant, while the required pathogen loads of C. parvum at the release points were below the potential loads of C. parvum in a 24-h wastewater overflow. Most estimates in this study assume a worst-case scenario. Controlling zoonotic infections at herd level prevents environmental contamination and subsequent human exposure. The potential for infection of grazing animals with faecal pathogens has implications for keeping animals on pastures with access to natural water sources. As the infectious dose for most pathogens is more easily reached for calves than for adult animals, and young calves are also the main shedders of C. parvum, keeping young calves on pastures adjacent to natural water sources is best avoided.
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