Abstract

Bacteriophages infecting Bacteroides fragilis GB-124 have been described as potential markers of human fecal contamination in water sources. The aim of this study was to evaluate the occurrence of GB-124 phages in raw sewage, secondary effluents and reclaimed water of the São Paulo city using a low-cost microbial source tracking method. Samples were collected monthly from April 2015 to March 2016 in four municipal wastewater treatment plants that operate with activated sludge processes followed by different tertiary treatments (sand-anthracite filtration, membrane bioreactor/reverse osmosis) and final chlorination. GB-124 phages were detected in 100% of the raw sewage samples, with viral loads varying from 7.5 × 103 to 1.32 × 106 PFU/L. Virus removal efficiency in activated sludge processes ranged from 1.89 to 2.31 log10. Frequencies of phage detection were lower in reclaimed water samples (0–22.2%). The results indicated that GB-124 phage could be a complementary low-cost viral marker for the detection of human fecal pollution in waters impacted with urban sewage in this region. However, the datasets of tertiary effluents resulted in several samples with concentrations below the detection limit (DL ≤1 PFU/mL) suggesting the need to obtain analytical methods with lower DL for greater accuracy of negative results.

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