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Application of crAssphage, F-RNA phage and peppermild mottle virus as indicators of human faecal and norovirus contamination in shellfish


Shellfish growing waters contaminated with inadequately treated human wastewater is a major source of norovirus in shellfish and poses a significant human health risk to consumers. Microbial source tracking (MST) markers have been widely used to identify the source (s) of faecal contamination in water but data are limited on their use for shellfish safety. This study evaluated the source specificity, sensitivity, occurrence and concentration of three viral MST markers i.e. cross-assembly phage (crAssphage), F-specific RNA bacteriophage genogroup II (F-RNA phage GII) and pepper mild mottle virus (PMMoV) using animal faeces (n = 119; 16 animal groups), influent wastewater (n = 12), effluent wastewater (n = 16) and shellfish (n = 33). CrAssphage, F-RNA phage GII and PMMoV had source specific values of 0.97, 0.99 and 0.91, respectively. The sensitivity of MST markers was confirmed by their 100% detection frequency in influent wastewaters. The frequency of detection in effluent wastewater ranged from 81.3% (F-RNA phage GII) to 100% (PMMoV). Concentration of F-RNA phage GII was one log10 (influent wastewater) and 2–3 log10 (effluent wastewater) lower than crAssphage and PMMoV, respectively. Despite lower prevalence of F-RNA phage GII in oysters and mussels compared to crAssphage and PMMoV, concentrations of the three MST markers were similar in mussels. As an indicator of norovirus contamination in shellfish, crAssphage and PMMoV had greater predictive sensitivity (100%; [95% CI; 81.5%–100%)]) and F-RNA phage GII had greater predictive specificity (93.3%; [95% CI; 68.1%–99.8%]). In contrast, crAssphage and F-RNA phage GII have similar accuracy for predicting norovirus in shellfish, however, PMMoV significantly overestimated its presence. Therefore, a combination of crAssphage and F-RNA phage GII analysis of shellfish could provide a robust estimation of the presence of human faecal and norovirus contamination.

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