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Chemical and Pathogen Exposure Through Recreational Waters: Pathogen Analysis

Pathogens are disease-causing microorganisms. They may be bacteria, viruses or protozoa. They can enter natural water bodies from leaking septic tanks, wastewater-treatment discharge, storm-water runoff, and animal wastes and other sources. Unfortunately, it is difficult and time-consuming to assess water directly for all pathogenic organisms that might potentially be present. Therefore, “indicator” organisms (commonly the bacteria Escherichia coli or E. coli) are used as a sign that water has been contaminated with fecal material. E. coli behaves similarly in the environment to some pathogenic organisms such as other bacteria (e.g., Salmonella) but it does not indicate viruses and protozoa very well. Newer indicators (organisms and chemicals) that may better indicate the presence of viruses or protozoa are currently being tested by the U.S. G.eological Survey (USGS). In addition, the USGS is exploring the use of some new methods, based on molecular technologies that are rapidly developing, for analysis of specific microbial pathogens in water.

Projects and Products

Toxic Substances Hydrology Program, Research Projects -Emerging Contaminants in the Environment

Public Health at Madison and Dane County, Wisconsin -Studies of Pathogens at Beaches

Lake Michigan

Occurrence of Escherichia coli and Enterococci in Cladophora (Chlorophyta) in Nearshore Water and Beach Sand of Lake Michigan: Applied and Environmental Microbiology

Foreshore Sand as a Source of Escherichia coli in Nearshore Water of a Lake Michigan Beach: Applied and Environmental Microbiology

Protecting visitor health in beach waters of Lake Michigan--Problems and opportunities : State of Lake Michigan--Ecology, Health and Management


The Ohio District Microbiology Laboratory (ODML) has established a method and quality-assurance/quality-control procedure for analysis of water samples for enterovirus and hepatitis-A virus by reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). USEPA Method 1623, filtration/immunomagnetic separation/fluorescent antibody, is used to detect Cryptosporidium and Giardia in water.

Virus in Florida Keys

Pathogenic Human Viruses in Coastal Waters: Clinical Microbiology Reviews - This review addresses both historical and recent investigations into viral contamination of marine waters. With the relatively recent emergence of molecular biology-based assays, a number of investigations have shown that pathogenic viruses are prevalent in marine waters being impacted by sewage.

Presence, Infectivity and Stability of Enteric Viruses in Water: Relationships to Marine Water Quality in the Florida Keys: Marine Pollution Bulletin.


Growth and Survival of E. coli and Enterococci Populations in the Macro-Alga Cladophora (Chlorophyta): FEMS Microbiology Ecology

Ubiquity and Persistence of Escherichia coli within a Midwestern Coastal Stream: Applied and Environmental Microbiology

Other Information on the Internet

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists some common recreational water pathogens:

Two highly regarded reports from the American Society of Microbiology on this subject are:


Human Health Home
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Air, Dust, and Soil contaminants and Pathogens
Drinking Water Contaminants
Consumption of Bioaccumulative Contaminants
Vector Borne and Zoonotic (animal to human) Disease
Contact With Recreational Waters
Animal Sentinels of Human Health

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URL: http://health.usgs.gov/rec_waters/pathogen_analysis.html
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Page Last Modified: 05-May-2016@11:39