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Rev Epidemiol Sante Publique. 2000 Aug;48 Suppl 2:2S62-71.

[Magnitude of rainfall on viral contamination of the marine environment during gastroenteritis epidemics in human coastal population].

[Article in French]

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IFREMER, D├ępartement Microbiologie et Phycotoxines, Laboratoire de Microbiologie, Rue de l'Ile d'Yeu, BP 21105, 44311 Nantes Cedex. 3



Sewage treatments are not efficient to eliminate enteric microorganisms. Viruses are able to persist and are discharged into the marine environment with treated effluents. Few data are now available on the magnitude and the contributive processes of marine viral contamination. This work evaluates the relationship between the magnitude of rainfall and the viral contamination of the marine environment during winter epidemics of gastroenteritis in human coastal populations.


A RT-PCR method was used to detect enterovirus, hepatitis A virus, Norwalk-like virus, astrovirus and rotavirus in shellfish, harvested monthly between August 1995 and July 1998. The frequency of virus detection in shellfish was expressed as an Index of Viral Contamination. Acute gastroenteritis in the population was estimated using the French Sentinel System for Monitoring of Communicable Diseases. Rainfall effects on the efficiency of sewage treatment were assessed using an estimated staying time of sewage effluents in the plant.


The results indicate that the highest viral contamination occurs in winter. Maximal indexes of viral contamination were respectively 70% in January 1996, 100% in January 1997, but only 31% in January 1998. Viral contamination variations seemed to follow the pattern of the winter epidemic of acute gastroenteritis in the local population in 1996 and 1997. These observations should be linked to the winter rainfalls. Heavy rains on short periods of time could create an hydraulic overload in the sewage treatment plant, reducing the staying time of the sewage effluents and thus the efficiency of the disinfection process.


The magnitude of the viral contamination of shellfish seems to result from the simultaneity between the winter epidemics of acute gastroenteritis in the coastal population and heavy rainfall. To prevent public health hazards associated with shellfish consumption, the monitoring of microbiological quality in shellfish harvesting areas should include accompagning survey of viral epidemic in the coastal population, and of sewage outputs in the coastal environment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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