What are indicator bacteria?
Microorganisms are a natural component of the environment, and they also inhabit the intestinal tracts of birds and mammals. When these bacteria are released into the environment, there is a chance that they may cause illnesses in people who come in contact with contaminated water.

Indicator bacteria are selected groups of microorganisms that are found to indicate the likelihood of the presence of disease-causing pathogens. It is difficult to detect every pathogenic organism in the water due to the wide array of the microbes in the natural environment.

As a solution, indicator organisms are used because they are easy to detect. It is important to realize that indicator bacteria only suggest the presence of disease-causing organisms, and generally are not pathogenic themselves. The indicator bacteria currently used by the state health standards are total coliform, fecal coliform, and enterococcus.

Show All Answers

1. When is a beach placed on warning status?
2. When is a beach closed?
3. What exactly are total coliform, fecal coliform, and enterococcus?
4. How does Humboldt County monitor ocean water quality?
5. What are indicator bacteria?
6. Does the health risk to swimmers increase as indicator bacterial levels increase?
7. How do I protect myself from illness-causing bacteria in the ocean?
8. How can I find out about the weekly sampling results?