Detection of human viruses in rivers of a densly-populated area in Germany using a virus adsorption elution method optimized for PCR analyses

Water Res. 2009 Jun;43(10):2657-68. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2009.03.020. Epub 2009 Mar 21.


Transmission of viruses via surface water is a major public health concern. To determine the viral concentration in rivers of a densely-populated area in Germany, the virus adsorption elution (VIRADEL) method was optimized for downstream PCR applications. Using a high-salt alkaline phosphate buffer for elution, the median recovery efficiency from spiked 1l water samples ranged from 21.3% to 100% for JC polyomavirus, human adenovirus type 5, Echovirus 11, and norovirus genogroup I. Analyses of 41 water samples collected during the winter 2007/08 from the rivers Ruhr and Rhine yielded detection rates 97.5% for adenoviruses and human polyomavirus (JC, BK), and 90% for group A rotaviruses. Noroviruses genogroup II were detected in 31.7% of the samples and only one sample was positive for enteroviruses. Virus concentrations ranged from 9.4 to 2.3x10(4) gen.equ./l. However, the genome equivalents/liter determined for the RNA viruses and their detection frequency are only lower limits, since the concentration procedure leads to carry-over of inhibitors of the reverse transcription step. Sequence analyses of the PCR products revealed that the adenovirus and rotavirus PCRs used could cross-react with animal viruses from the respective virus families. These results suggest that detection of human polyomavirus genomes is the most sensitive and specific marker for contamination of surface water with viruses from human sewage. Although we could routinely detect nucleic acids of viral pathogens in river water by the PCR-optimized VIRADEL method, threshold levels of viral nucleic acids above which there is a risk of infection with viruses derived from human remain to be determined.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenoviridae / isolation & purification
  • Adsorption
  • Enterovirus B, Human / isolation & purification
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Norovirus / isolation & purification
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction*
  • Polyomavirus / isolation & purification
  • Rivers / virology*