Application of human and animal viral microbial source tracking tools in fresh and marine waters from five different geographical areas

Marta Rusiñol , Xavier Fernandez-Cassi , Ayalkibet Hundesa, Carmen Vieira, Anita Kern, Irene Eriksson, Panos Ziros, David Kay, Marize Miagostovich, Marta Vargha, Annika Allard, Apostolos Vantarakis, Peter Wyn-jones, Sílvia Bofill-mas, Rosina Girones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Integrated river basin management planning to mitigate the impacts of economic, demographic and climate change is an important issue for the future protection of water resources. Identifying sources of microbial contamination via the emerging science of Microbial Source Tracking (MST) plays a key role in risk assessment and the design of remediation strategies. Following an 18-month surveillance program within the EU-FP7-funded VIROCLIME project, specific MST tools were used to assess human markers such as adenoviruses (HAdV) and JC polyomaviruses (JCPyV) and porcine and bovine markers such as porcine adenoviruses (PAdV) and bovine polyomaviruses (BPyV) via quantification with real-time PCR to analyze surface water collected from five sites within different climatic zones: the Negro River (Brazil), Glafkos River (Greece), Tisza River (Hungary), Llobregat River (Spain) and Umeälven River (Sweden). The utility of the viral MST tools and the prevalence and abundance of specific human and animal viruses in the five river catchments and adjacent seawater, which is impacted by riverine contributions from the upstream catchments, were examined. In areas where no sanitation systems have been implemented, sewage can directly enter surface waters, and river water exhibited high viral loads; HAdV and JCPyV could be detected at mean concentrations of 105 and 104 Genome Copies/Liter (GC/L), respectively. In general, river water samples upstream of urban discharges presented lower human viral loads than downstream sampling sites, and those differences appeared to increase with urban populations but decrease in response to high river flow, as the elevated river water volume dilutes microbial loads. During dry seasons, river water flow decreases dramatically, and secondary effluents can represent the bulk of the riverine discharge. We also observed that ice cover that formed over the river during the winter in the studied areas in North Europe could preserve viral stability due to the low temperatures and/or the lack of solar inactivation. Porcine and bovine markers were detected where intensive livestock and agricultural activities were present; mean concentration values of 103 GC/L indicated that farms were sometimes unexpected and important sources of fecal contamination in water. During spring and summer, when livestock is outdoors and river flows are low, animal pollution increases due to diffuse contamination and direct voiding of feces onto the catchment surface. The field studies described here demonstrate the dynamics of fecal contamination in all catchments studied, and the data obtained is currently being used to develop dissemination models of fecal contamination in water with respect to future climate change scenarios. The results concerning human and animal targets presented in this study demonstrate the specificity and applicability of the viral quantitative parameters developed to widely divergent geographical areas and their high interest as new indicators of human and animal fecal contamination in water and as MST tools.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-129
Number of pages11
JournalWater Research
Early online date18 Apr 2014
Publication statusPublished - 01 Aug 2014


  • Microbial Source Tracking (MST)
  • adenovirus
  • polyomavirus
  • iver water
  • seawater


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