The nucleic acid hybridization technique has been used to detect viral nucleic acid in environmental water samples. This type of assay, in contrast with tissue culture assays, may not distinguish between viable and non-viable viruses. We evaluated, by comparison with tissue culture infectivity assay (plaque forming method), the ability of the gene probe assay to detect viable poliovirus 1 (LSc) in well water, autoclaved well water, filter-sterilized well water and autoclaved phosphate buffered saline kept at 37° C and 15° C for 75 days, and in dechlorinated tapwater held at room temperature. A gradual decline in numbers of poliovirus was observed in all of the samples by cell culture assay. With the exception of autoclaved well water and phosphate buffer samples, a parallel decline in virus detectable by gene probe occurred in all other water samples.

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