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Q: Bacteria in the Ganges ( Answered,   0 Comments )
Subject: Bacteria in the Ganges
Category: Science > Biology
Asked by: chandi-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 19 Apr 2006 20:37 PDT
Expires: 19 May 2006 20:37 PDT
Question ID: 720818
I've taken water samples from the Ganges river in india in October
2004. I finally  found someone with an access to a microbiology lab to
help me see if there still was something alive after 18 months.

The bacterium was of bacillus type (looked like a little stick and
moved quite fast). The microbiologist I was with told me there was at
least 10^8 bacteria/1 ml but she couldn't identify them since her lab
was not equiped for that.

I would like to know 3 different things :
1-What are the typical bacteria found in the Ganges and how pathogen they are.
2-What could be the bacterium that I've observed.
3-Why do people say it's curative to bathe in the Ganges ? (a friend
of mine has been cured of 8 years of eczema the day after bathing )

We did smim in it while rafting and none of us died neither got sick
which is quite strange !

Thanks a lot,

Subject: Re: Bacteria in the Ganges
Answered By: crabcakes-ga on 19 Apr 2006 23:10 PDT
Hi Chandi,

  I?m assuming you examined the water in 2004, and not recently, as it
is most likely contaminated by now!

It?s quite difficult to identify an organism without seeing it.
Hopefully your friend identified it correctly as a bacilli (rod). Keep
in mind that bacilli can look differently in liquid media (water) than
they do on a Gram stain. After 10 months the organisms are surely
dead, but a microbiologist or medical technologist in a hospital lab
can make a Gram stain slide and at least give you a presumptive

Considering how contaminated the Ganges River is, I would guess the
organism you speak of is a coliform bacteria. It could be any of the
organisms on this page:

Your water sample could easily have been a mixed bag of numerous
organisms. It would be difficult, if not impossible to obtain a sample
of Ganges water with only one type of bacteria! I?d be willing to bet
that E.coli was present. One reason we don?t get sick from swimming
with germs is that some organisms produce a toxin inside our bodies,
when we are infected. If one does not swallow infected water, and is
healthy, with no broken skin, bathing in the Ganges may not make you
sick! But, numerous diseases DO affect the locals who do drink the

?The river Ganga is the lifeline of many small and big towns along its
entire stretch. Almost three-fourths of Kanpur city depends on the
river for drinking purposes. Therefore, the health and environment of
Kanpur is directly linked to the river's health. The number of cases
from water born diseases like Cholera, Jaundice, diarrhoea, hepatitis
etc. is steadily on the rise and the most affected are poor people who
have to drink the water without any choice and live in water-logged
areas prone to innumerable diseases.?

?Disease is caused by the action of the circulating toxin more so than
as a direct result of the bacteria. Travellers to another area of the
world often end up with a form of E. coli infection, whether obtained
from undercooked meat, raw milk, or even from swimming in a pool.?

It could be of the cholera species:
?In the 19th century cholera became the world's first truly global
disease in a series of epidemics that proved to be a watershed for the
history of plumbing. Festering along the Ganges River in India for
centuries, the disease broke out in Calcutta in 1817.?

?India's Ganges River is one of the most polluted waterways in the
world. But its religious significance annually brings millions of
visitors?both Indian and foreign?to its banks and bathing ghats, where
their contact with the microbe-laden water poses a widespread public
health risk.?

?he tremendous life that the Ganges supports is also the source of its
greatest threat: pollution. The majority of the Ganges? pollution is
organic waste?sewage, trash, food, and human and animal remains. Over
the past century, city populations along the Ganges have grown at a
tremendous rate, while waste-control infrastructure has remained
relatively unchanged. Sewage systems designed near the turn of the
20th century today do little more than channel waste into the river.
Some 300 million gallons of waste go into the Ganges each day, and the
effects are stunning: recent water samples collected in Varanasi
revealed fecal-coliform counts of about 50,000 bacteria per 100
milliliters of water, 10,000% higher than the government standard for
safe river bathing. The result of this pollution is an array of
water-borne diseases including cholera, hepatitis, typhoid and amoebic
dysentery. An estimated 80% of all health problems and one-third of
deaths in India are attributable to water-borne diseases.
The sacred practice of depositing human remains in the Ganges also
poses health threats because of the unsustainable rate at which
partially cremated cadavers are dumped. In Varanasi, some 40,000
cremations are performed each year, most on wood pyres that do not
completely consume the body. Along with the remains of these
traditional funerals, there are thousands more who cannot afford
cremation and whose bodies are simply thrown into the Ganges. In
addition, the carcasses of thousands of dead cattle, which are sacred
to Hindus, go into the river each year.?

?About 85% of the total pollution of the Ganges River at Varanasi is
due to the introduction of flush toilets and sewerage systems from
early this century. The sewerage systems were built to discharge the
sewage into the river without treatment.

The disposal of human and animal dead bodies into the river has drawn
much attention from pilgrims and tourists, although their contribution
to the total pollution load is much less than that of sewage.?

?Ram Surat Das, a barefoot old man, emerged from a crowd of Ganges
bathers on Saturday holding a steel pot of water.
"I'll use this for drinking and cooking and get some more tonight," he
said. "It's absolutely clean. Of course it is, it's Ganges water."
So far he has survived the physical onslaught of raw sewage, rotting
carcasses, industrial effluent, fertilisers and pesticides that infect
the river from the Himalayan foothills to the Bay of Bengal.
Experts say pollution is to blame for a host of diseases - hepatitis,
amoebic dysentery, typhoid, cholera and cancer - among the roughly 400
million people who live in the vast Gangetic basin.

?Each dock, or ghat as they're known in India, has some significance
and a different owner (typically Maharajas). What's incredible is the
toxicity of this river. Every day more than 60 000 people dip
themselves over a 7 km stretch, yet in this same stretch there are 30
discharging sewers readily polluting the river. Here's a stat that
frighten anyone: The Ganges is septic, no dissolved oxygen exists.
Normal water should have 500 bacteria per 100mL; instead the Ganges
has 1.5 million faecal coliform bacteria for the same quantity of
water. How do people drink this water? How do they swim in it? Beats
me, and I wasn't going to find out.?

Significance of bathing in the Ganges

?As a devout Hindu, Mishra views the Ganges as a goddess-"Maa Ganga,"
or Mother Ganges, a river that, because of its divine origin, is pure
and purifies all those faithful who immerse themselves in her waters.
It is the dream of all good Hindus to visit Varanasi and bathe in the
Ganges at least once in their lives. People from across India keep a
little Ganges water in their homes to use as a religious offering or
to add to their household cooking. It is said that one drop of Ganges
water in a breeze that lands on your cheek hundreds of miles away is
enough to cleanse a lifetime of sins. At their deaths, all Hindus seek
to have their ashes scattered along the Ganges.?

?In some places at Varanasi the fecal coliform count has been known to
reach the astronomical level of 170 million bacteria per 100
milliliters of water, a terrifying 340,000 times the acceptable level
of 500 bacteria per 100 milliliters. Similar levels are routinely
registered at all the major cities along the river, which starts in
the Himalayas in Nepal, flows fourteen hundred miles through India and
Bangladesh, and empties into the Bay of Bengal at Calcutta.?

?Winding 1,560 miles across northern India, from the Himalaya
Mountains to the Indian Ocean, the Ganges River is not a sacred place:
it is a sacred entity. Known as Ganga Ma?Mother Ganges?the river is
revered as a goddess whose purity cleanses the sins of the faithful
and aids the dead on their path toward heaven. But while her spiritual
purity has remained unchallenged for millennia, her physical purity
has deteriorated as India?s booming population imposes an ever-growing
burden upon her. The river is now sick with the pollution of human and
industrial waste, and water-borne illness is a terrible factor of
Indian life. But the threat posed by this pollution isn?t just a
matter of health?it?s a matter of faith. Veer Badra Mishra, a Hindu
priest and civil engineer who has worked for decades to combat
pollution in the Ganges, describes the importance of protecting this
sacred river: ?There is a saying that the Ganges grants us salvation.
This culture will end if the people stop going to the river, and if
the culture dies the tradition dies, and the faith dies.?

I hope this has helped you out! Please request an Answer Clarification
if you have any questions. I will be glad to assist you further,
before you rate this answer.

Sincerely, Crabcakes

Search Terms
bacteria + Ganges river
Coliform bacteria
Coliform bacteria + Ganges River
Significance + bathing + Ganges River
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