Gene and antigen markers of Shiga-toxin producing e. Coli from Michigan and Indiana river water: occurrence and relation to recreational water quality criteria
Received for publication May 12, 2008. The relation of bacterial pathogen occurrence to fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) concentrations used for recreational water quality criteria (RWQC) is poorly understood. This study determined the occurrence of Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC) markers and their relation to FIB concentrations in Michigan and Indiana river water. Using 67 fecal coliform (FC) bacteria cultures from 41 river sites in multiple watersheds, we evaluated the occurrence of five STEC markers: the Escherichia coli (EC) O157 antigen and gene, and the STEC virulence genes eaeA, stx1, and stx2. Simple isolations from selected FC cultures yielded viable EC O157. By both antigen and gene assays, EC O157 was detected in a greater proportion of samples exceeding rather than meeting FC RWQC (P < 0.05), but was unrelated to EC and enterococci RWQC. The occurrence of all other STEC markers was unrelated to any FIB RWQC. The eaeA, stx2, and stx1 genes were found in 93.3, 13.3, and in 46.7% of samples meeting FC RWQC and in 91.7, 0.0, and 37.5% of samples meeting the EC RWQC. Although not statistically significant, the percentage of samples positive for each STEC marker except stx1 was lower in samples that met, as opposed to exceeded, FIB RWQC. Viable STEC were common members of the FC communities in river water throughout southern Michigan and northern Indiana, regardless of FIB RWQC. Our study indicates that further information on the occurrence of pathogens in recreational waters, and research on alternative indicators of their occurrence, may help inform water-resource management and public health decision-making.