Swimmer risk of gastrointestinal illness from exposure to tropical coastal waters impacted by terrestrial dry-weather runoff

Environ Sci Technol. 2011 Sep 1;45(17):7158-65. doi: 10.1021/es200984b. Epub 2011 Aug 9.


This study used molecular methods to measure concentrations of four enteric viruses (adenovirus, enterovirus, norovirus GI, and norovirus GII) and fecal source tracking markers (human, ruminant, and pig Bacteroidales) in land-based runoff from 22 tropical streams on O'ahu, Hawai'i. Each stream was sampled twice in the morning and afternoon during dry weather. Viruses and human Bacteroidales were widespread in the streams. Watershed septic tank densities were positively associated with higher occurrence of human Bacteroidales and norovirus. There were no associations between occurrence of viruses and fecal indicator concentrations. Virus concentrations and previously reported culturable Salmonella and Campylobacter were used as inputs to a quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) model to estimate the risk of acquiring gastrointestinal (GI) illness from swimming in tropical marine waters adjacent to discharging streams. Monte Carlo methods were used to incorporate uncertainties in the dilution of stream discharge with seawater, swimmer ingestion volumes, pathogen concentrations, and dose-response parameters into the model. Median GI illness risk to swimmers from exposure to coastal waters adjacent to the 22 streams ranged from 0 to 21/1000. GI illness risks from viral exposures were generally orders of magnitude greater than bacterial exposures. Swimming adjacent to streams positive for norovirus or adenovirus resulted in the highest risks. The median risk adjacent to each stream was positively, significantly correlated to the concentration of Clostridium perfringens in the stream. Although a number of important assumptions were made to complete the QMRA, results suggest land-based runoff in the tropics as a potential source of GI illness risk, with pathogens coming from both human and nonhuman nonpoint sources including septic tanks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Feces / virology
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases* / microbiology
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases* / virology
  • Hawaii
  • Humans
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Recreation
  • Risk
  • Rivers* / microbiology
  • Rivers* / virology
  • Seawater* / microbiology
  • Seawater* / virology
  • Swimming*
  • Tropical Climate*
  • Water Microbiology
  • Water Movements*
  • Water Pollution*
  • Weather