Monitoring the quality of the bathing waters of Gipuzkoa (the Basque Country, Spain) makes it possible to assess the suitability of its 15 beaches for bathing throughout each season. In 1998, the parameters E. coli, somatic coliphages (SOMCPH) and F-specific RNA bacteriophages (FRNAPH) were incorporated into the bathing water quality monitoring system. This enabled the study of the link between bacterial and viral indicators as well as the analysis of the ratios between both types of indicators in waters with different levels of pollution. Although bacterial indicators (total coliforms (TC) and faecal coliforms (FC)) and enterococci showed a strong correlation between them, the correlations between the viral indicators and between the viral and bacterial indicators were weaker, though significant in all cases. The ratio between SOMCPH and E. coli indicates that at low levels of bacterial pollution (E coli <100 MPN/100 ml) SOMCPH outnumber E coli. In contrast, at higher levels of pollution (E coli >100 MPN/100 ml), SOMCPH numbers are lower than those of E-coli. The data reveal the presence of viral indicators in waters classified as suitable for bathing by the European Directive and alert us to their suitability.

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