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Feral swine as sources of fecal contamination in recreational waters

February 18, 2021

Recreational waters are primary attractions at many national and state parks where feral swine populations are established, and thus are possible hotspots for visitor exposure to feral swine contaminants. Microbial source tracking (MST) was used to determine spatial and temporal patterns of fecal contamination in Congaree National Park (CONG) in South Carolina, U.S.A., which has an established population of feral swine and is a popular destination for water-based recreation. Water samples were collected between December 2017 and June 2019 from 18 surface water sites distributed throughout CONG. Host specific MST markers included human (HF183), swine (Pig2Bac), ruminant (Rum2Bac), cow (CowM3), chicken (CL), and a marker for shiga toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC; stx2). Water samples were also screened for culturable Escherichia coli (E. coli) as part of a citizen science program. Neither the cow nor chicken MST markers were detected during the study. The human marker was predominantly detected at boundary sites or could be attributed to upstream sources. However, several detections within CONG without concurrent detections at upstream external sites suggested occasional internal contamination from humans. The swine marker was the most frequently detected of all MST markers, and was present at sites located both internal and external to the Park. Swine MST marker concentrations ≥ 43 gene copies/mL were associated with culturable E. coli concentrations greater than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency beach action value for recreational waters. None of the MST markers showed a strong association with detection of the pathogenic marker (stx2). Limited information about the health risk from exposure to fecal contamination from non-human sources hampers interpretation of the human health implications.