Assays for the detection and typing of adenoviruses, enteroviruses and F+ specific coliphages were performed on samples created as part of a national microbial source tracking methods comparison study. The samples were created blind to the researchers, and were inoculated with a variety of types of fecal contamination source (human, sewage, dog, seagull and cow) and mixtures of sources. Viral tracer and pathogen assays demonstrated a general ability to discriminate human from non-human fecal contamination. For example, samples inoculated with sewage were correctly identified as containing human fecal contamination because they contained human adenovirus or human enterovirus. In samples containing fecal material from individual humans, human pathogen analysis yielded negative results probably because the stool samples were taken from healthy individuals. False positive rates for the virus-based methods (0–8%) were among the lowest observed during the methods comparison study. It is suggested that virus-based source tracking methods are useful for identification of sewage contamination, and that these methods may also be useful as an indication of the public health risk associated with viral pathogens. Overall, virus-based source tracking methods are an important approach to include in the microbial source tracking ‘toolbox’.

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