Current measures for controlling the public health risks associated with bivalve molluscan shellfish consumption rely on the use of Escherichia coli to indicate the sanitary quality of shellfish harvesting areas. However, it has been demonstrated that E. coli is an inadequate indicator of the viral risk associated with shellfish. An alternative indicator, male-specific B+ coliphages, have been investigated as viral indicators of faecal contamination that may provide source-specific information for impacted environmental waters. This study compared the distribution of E. coli and F+ RNA bacteriophages in shellfish grown in harvesting areas of Greece and also examined the presence and proportions of the different subgroups of F+ RNA coliphages in shellfish. F+ RNA bacteriophages were present in shellfish at higher concentrations than E. coli. Elevated numbers of F+ RNA bacteriophages observed in the winter concur with the known increased viral risk associated with shellfish harvested at that time of year in Greece. The majority of F+ RNA coliphages detected in shellfish samples belonged to group IV which indicated the possible presence of animal faecal material in sample harvesting areas. Phages of groups II and III (human waste and human faecal material, respectively) were present at low levels. Finally, 8% of the phages hybridised were found to belong to group I. The presence of group IV showed seasonal distribution (more in winter, less in summer) whereas the other groups did not show any difference. Monitoring of F+ coliphage subgroups may indicate the presence and major sources of microbial inputs to surface waters; however, environmental effects on the relative occurrence of different groups need to be considered.

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