Comparison of pathogen-derived ‘total risk’ with indicator-based correlations for recreational (swimming) exposure

Neha Sunger, Kerry A. Hamilton, Paula M. Morgan, Charles N. Haas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Typical recreational water risk to swimmers is assessed using epidemiologically derived correlations by means of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB). It has been documented that concentrations of FIB do not necessarily correlate well with protozoa and viral pathogens, which pose an actual threat of illness and thus sometimes may not adequately assess the overall microbial risks from water resources. Many of the known pathogens have dose-response relationships; however, measuring water quality for all possible pathogens is impossible. In consideration of a typical freshwater receiving secondarily treated effluent, we investigated the level of consistency between the indicator-derived correlations and the sum of risks from six reference pathogens using a quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) approach. Enterococci and E. coli were selected as the benchmark FIBs, and norovirus, human adenovirus (HAdV), Campylobacter jejuni, Salmonella enterica, Cryptosporidium spp., and Giardia spp. were selected as the reference pathogens. Microbial decay rates in freshwater and uncertainties in exposure relationships were considered in developing our analysis. Based on our exploratory assessment, the total risk was found within the range of risk estimated by the indicator organisms, with viral pathogens as dominant risk agents, followed by protozoan and bacterial pathogens. The risk evaluated in this study captured the likelihood of gastrointestinal illnesses only, and did not address the overall health risk potential of recreational waters with respect to other disease endpoints. Since other highly infectious pathogens like hepatitis A and Legionella spp. were not included in our analysis, these estimates should be interpreted with caution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)30614-30624
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Science and Pollution Research
Issue number30
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Decay rates
  • Exposure assessment
  • FIB
  • QMRA
  • Reference pathogens
  • Risk assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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