DERIVE - Detection and RIsk management of Verotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) in the water Environment


D‌ERIVE is looking to recruit private well owners in the Black River catchment on the border of Co Galway and Co Mayo. Sign up here to participate and in return you will get free microbial water quality tests! 

What is the DERIVE Project?

  • A research project that aims to better understand how the bacterial pathogen VTEC moves through groundwater and contaminates private wells. VTEC causes over 700 gastrointestinal infections every year in Ireland, and around 1/3 of those infected are hospitalised with bloody diarrhoea.
  • DERIVE aims to develop new tools to detect and predict VTEC contamination of groundwater-derived water supplies including private household wells. The DERIVE team includes microbiologists, environmental scientists, public health doctors and other stakeholders involved in providing safe drinking water for rural communities in Ireland.

What is VTEC? 

  • A harmful type of E. coli bacteria, which lives in the intestines of cattle and sheep without causing them harm. VTEC are present in high numbers in cattle and sheep poo (i.e. manure) and can pass through the soil and surface waters to the deeper groundwater and comntaminate drinking water supplies. 

  • Infection happens when contaminated food or water is consumed, or through poor hand hygiene after contact with animals.
  • Once a person is infected, person to person spread can result in outbreaks, especially in childcare facilities where exposure to poo during nappy changing is common.
  • VTEC produce a powerful poison (called verotoxin) that can cause severe diarrhoea with sometimes life-threatening complications, especially in vulnerable people (i.e. young children and the elderly).

  • Very low numbers of VTEC bugs are needed to make a person sick.  
  • Infection causes serious illness that frequently requires hospitalisation, and in up to 10% of cases results in the life-threatening kidney problem, haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). 

Why are we doing this research? 

  • To prevent people with private wells from getting sick or being hospitalised due to VTEC infection.
  • About 750,000 people in Ireland use small groundwater supplies or private household wells for their drinking water. These supplies are vulnerable to VTEC contamination and often untreated.  

  • To protect private well owners from infection, we need to be able to predict when VTEC contamination will happen and detect it when it does.
  • People with private drinking water wells are four times more likely to get infected. 

  • If we can predict the transport and concentration of VTEC in water, we can reduce and mitigate their impact on human health. 

What do we know?  

  • Ireland has frequently reported the highest rate of VTEC infectionsin the EU, up to10 times the EU average. 

  • There has been a significant rise in the number of cases of VTEC in Ireland since 2005, with nearly 1,000 cases in some recent years

What do we need to know? 

  • How are VTEC transported from the source animals (cattle and sheep) into drinking water supplies?
  • Do VTEC from human waste sources (septic tanks) also contaminate drinking water supplies, and if so how?
  • How many VTEC bugs there are in the different water bodies (in surface waters, ground water and in drinking water supplies)? 

  • How does the quantity of VTEC bugs in the different water bodies change during the seasons, and with extreme weather events. 

  • Technical information on the wells - to inform which is the best design?

What does participation involve? 

  • Grant us access to your outdoor private well tap for repeated water collection to test for the presence of these harmful VTEC bacteria.  

  • You answe a few questions on your well design, and we take some photos to record how it is constructed.

  • We take some site measurements to assess potential pollution sources.  
  • Samples are tested in our lab and analysed by our team  

  • Results will inform the development of new and improved VTEC detection and risk assessment tools. 

Why should I participate? 

  • You will receive free of charge a microbial quality analysis of your water, including recommendations based on these results

  • You will be helping us to prevent hundreds of children every year from ending up in hospital with VTEC. 
  • You will be helping us to protect the drinking water supplies of rural families in Ireland.   

How can I get involved 

  • We are looking to recruit private well owners in the Black River catchment.
  • If you live near the Black River in North Co Galway, (North of Headford) or South Co Mayo (south of Ballinrobe), we are looking for you! 
  • To register your interest in participating please complete the registration form. Thank you!  
  • For details on how to protect your private well see