Hepatitis A virus (HAV) strains found in selected South African (SA) surface waters were characterised to establish what HAV types are circulating in the environment, thus reflecting circulation in the surrounding communities. Surface water samples used for irrigation or domestic purposes, and water samples from the outflow of wastewater plants were collected from six provinces. Viruses were recovered from the samples using a glass wool adsorption-elution method and then further concentrated using polyethylene glycol/sodium chloride precipitation. After automated nucleic acid extraction, samples were analysed for HAV by real-time reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction. HAV strains were genotyped by nucleotide sequence analysis of the capsid gene VP1 and the VP1/P2B junction. HAVs were detected in 76% (16/21) of the surface water samples and in 37% (19/51) of the samples from the wastewater plants. Strains were characterised from 32 of the 35 samples and classified within genotype IB. The presence of genotype IB in the water sources confirms human faecal contamination. Hence, these faecally-contaminated water sources may be a potential transmission route of HAV infection and a potential source of contamination of irrigated fresh produce in SA.

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