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1.  Prevalence and Pathogenic Potential of Campylobacter Isolates from Free-Living, Human-Commensal American Crows 
Recent studies have suggested a potential role for wild birds in zoonotic transmission of Campylobacter jejuni, the leading cause of gastroenteritis in humans worldwide. In this study, we detected Campylobacter spp. in 66.9% (85/127) of free-ranging American crows (Corvus brachyrhyncos) sampled in the Sacramento Valley of California in 2012 and 2013. Biochemical testing and sequence analysis of 16S rRNA revealed that 93% of isolates (n = 70) were C. jejuni, with cytolethal distending toxin (CDT) and flagellin A genes detected by PCR in 20% and 46% of the C. jejuni isolates (n = 59), respectively. The high prevalence of C. jejuni, coupled with the occurrence of known virulence markers CDT and flagellin A, demonstrates that crows shed Campylobacter spp. in their feces that are potentially pathogenic to humans. Crows are abundant in urban, suburban, and agricultural settings, and thus further study to determine their role in zoonotic transmission of Campylobacter will inform public health.
PMCID: PMC3957608  PMID: 24375131
2.  Hydrologic and Vegetative Removal of Cryptosporidium parvum, Giardia lamblia, and Toxoplasma gondii Surrogate Microspheres in Coastal Wetlands 
Constructed wetland systems are used to reduce pollutants and pathogens in wastewater effluent, but comparatively little is known about pathogen transport through natural wetland habitats. Fecal protozoans, including Cryptosporidium parvum, Giardia lamblia, and Toxoplasma gondii, are waterborne pathogens of humans and animals, which are carried by surface waters from land-based sources into coastal waters. This study evaluated key factors of coastal wetlands for the reduction of protozoal parasites in surface waters using settling column and recirculating mesocosm tank experiments. Settling column experiments evaluated the effects of salinity, temperature, and water type (“pure” versus “environmental”) on the vertical settling velocities of C. parvum, G. lamblia, and T. gondii surrogates, with salinity and water type found to significantly affect settling of the parasites. The mesocosm tank experiments evaluated the effects of salinity, flow rate, and vegetation parameters on parasite and surrogate counts, with increased salinity and the presence of vegetation found to be significant factors for removal of parasites in a unidirectional transport wetland system. Overall, this study highlights the importance of water type, salinity, and vegetation parameters for pathogen transport within wetland systems, with implications for wetland management, restoration efforts, and coastal water quality.
PMCID: PMC3592235  PMID: 23315738
3.  Prevalence, Environmental Loading, and Molecular Characterization of Cryptosporidium and Giardia Isolates from Domestic and Wild Animals along the Central California Coast 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2012;78(24):8762-8772.
The risk of disease transmission from waterborne protozoa is often dependent on the origin (e.g., domestic animals versus wildlife), overall parasite load in contaminated waterways, and parasite genotype, with infections being linked to runoff or direct deposition of domestic animal and wildlife feces. Fecal samples collected from domestic animals and wildlife along the central California coast were screened to (i) compare the prevalence and associated risk factors for fecal shedding of Cryptosporidium and Giardia species parasites, (ii) evaluate the relative importance of animal host groups that contribute to pathogen loading in coastal ecosystems, and (iii) characterize zoonotic and host-specific genotypes. Overall, 6% of fecal samples tested during 2007 to 2010 were positive for Cryptosporidium oocysts and 15% were positive for Giardia cysts. Animal host group and age class were significantly associated with detection of Cryptosporidium and Giardia parasites in animal feces. Fecal loading analysis revealed that infected beef cattle potentially contribute the greatest parasite load relative to other host groups, followed by wild canids. Beef cattle, however, shed host-specific, minimally zoonotic Cryptosporidium and Giardia duodenalis genotypes, whereas wild canids shed potentially zoonotic genotypes, including G. duodenalis assemblages A and B. Given that the parasite genotypes detected in cattle were not zoonotic, the public health risk posed by protozoan parasite shedding in cattle feces may be lower than that posed by other animals, such as wild canids, that routinely shed zoonotic genotypes.
PMCID: PMC3502930  PMID: 23042185
4.  Genotypic Characterization of Streptococcus infantarius subsp. coli Isolates from Sea Otters with Infective Endocarditis and/or Septicemia and from Environmental Mussel Samples 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2012;50(12):4131-4133.
Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) was used to type 128 Streptococcus infantarius subsp. coli isolates from sea otters and mussels. Six SmaI PFGE groups were detected, with one predominant group representing 57% of the isolates collected over a wide geographic region. Several sea otter and mussel isolates were highly related, suggesting that an environmental infection source is possible.
PMCID: PMC3503019  PMID: 23052307
5.  Longitudinal Poisson Regression To Evaluate the Epidemiology of Cryptosporidium, Giardia, and Fecal Indicator Bacteria in Coastal California Wetlands 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2012;78(10):3606-3613.
Fecal pathogen contamination of watersheds worldwide is increasingly recognized, and natural wetlands may have an important role in mitigating fecal pathogen pollution flowing downstream. Given that waterborne protozoa, such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia, are transported within surface waters, this study evaluated associations between fecal protozoa and various wetland-specific and environmental risk factors. This study focused on three distinct coastal California wetlands: (i) a tidally influenced slough bordered by urban and agricultural areas, (ii) a seasonal wetland adjacent to a dairy, and (iii) a constructed wetland that receives agricultural runoff. Wetland type, seasonality, rainfall, and various water quality parameters were evaluated using longitudinal Poisson regression to model effects on concentrations of protozoa and indicator bacteria (Escherichia coli and total coliform). Among wetland types, the dairy wetland exhibited the highest protozoal and bacterial concentrations, and despite significant reductions in microbe concentrations, the wetland could still be seen to influence water quality in the downstream tidal wetland. Additionally, recent rainfall events were associated with higher protozoal and bacterial counts in wetland water samples across all wetland types. Notably, detection of E. coli concentrations greater than a 400 most probable number (MPN) per 100 ml was associated with higher Cryptosporidium oocyst and Giardia cyst concentrations. These findings show that natural wetlands draining agricultural and livestock operation runoff into human-utilized waterways should be considered potential sources of pathogens and that wetlands can be instrumental in reducing pathogen loads to downstream waters.
PMCID: PMC3346375  PMID: 22427504
6.  Effect of Estuarine Wetland Degradation on Transport of Toxoplasma gondii Surrogates from Land to Sea▿ †  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2010;76(20):6821-6828.
The flux of terrestrially derived pathogens to coastal waters presents a significant health risk to marine wildlife, as well as to humans who utilize the nearshore for recreation and seafood harvest. Anthropogenic changes in natural habitats may result in increased transmission of zoonotic pathogens to coastal waters. The objective of our work was to evaluate how human-caused alterations of coastal landscapes in California affect the transport of Toxoplasma gondii to estuarine waters. Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoan parasite that is excreted in the feces of infected felids and is thought to reach coastal waters in contaminated runoff. This zoonotic pathogen causes waterborne toxoplasmosis in humans and is a significant cause of death in threatened California sea otters. Surrogate particles that mimic the behavior of T. gondii oocysts in water were released in transport studies to evaluate if the loss of estuarine wetlands is contributing to an increased flux of oocysts into coastal waters. Compared to vegetated sites, more surrogates were recovered from unvegetated mudflat habitats, which represent degraded wetlands. Specifically, in Elkhorn Slough, where a large proportion of otters are infected with T. gondii, erosion of 36% of vegetated wetlands to mudflats may increase the flux of oocysts by more than 2 orders of magnitude. Total degradation of wetlands may result in increased Toxoplasma transport of 6 orders of magnitude or more. Destruction of wetland habitats along central coastal California may thus facilitate pathogen pollution in coastal waters with detrimental health impacts to wildlife and humans.
PMCID: PMC2953021  PMID: 20802072
7.  Presence of Bacteroidales as a Predictor of Pathogens in Surface Waters of the Central California Coast ▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2010;76(17):5802-5814.
The value of Bacteroidales genetic markers and fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) to predict the occurrence of waterborne pathogens was evaluated in ambient waters along the central California coast. Bacteroidales host-specific quantitative PCR (qPCR) was used to quantify fecal bacteria in water and provide insights into contributing host fecal sources. Over 140 surface water samples from 10 major rivers and estuaries within the Monterey Bay region were tested over 14 months with four Bacteroidales-specific assays (universal, human, dog, and cow), three FIB (total coliforms, fecal coliforms, and enterococci), two protozoal pathogens (Cryptosporidium and Giardia spp.), and four bacterial pathogens (Campylobacter spp., Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella spp., and Vibrio spp.). Indicator and pathogen distribution was widespread, and detection was not highly seasonal. Vibrio cholerae was detected most frequently, followed by Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Salmonella, and Campylobacter spp. Bayesian conditional probability analysis was used to characterize the Bacteroidales performance assays, and the ratios of concentrations determined using host-specific and universal assays were used to show that fecal contamination from human sources was more common than livestock or dog sources in coastal study sites. Correlations were seen between some, but not all, indicator-pathogen combinations. The ability to predict pathogen occurrence in relation to indicator threshold cutoff levels was evaluated using a weighted measure that showed the universal Bacteroidales genetic marker to have a comparable or higher mean predictive potential than standard FIB. This predictive ability, in addition to the Bacteroidales assays providing information on contributing host fecal sources, supports using Bacteroidales assays in water quality monitoring programs.
PMCID: PMC2935056  PMID: 20639358
8.  Evidence for a Novel Marine Harmful Algal Bloom: Cyanotoxin (Microcystin) Transfer from Land to Sea Otters 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(9):e12576.
“Super-blooms” of cyanobacteria that produce potent and environmentally persistent biotoxins (microcystins) are an emerging global health issue in freshwater habitats. Monitoring of the marine environment for secondary impacts has been minimal, although microcystin-contaminated freshwater is known to be entering marine ecosystems. Here we confirm deaths of marine mammals from microcystin intoxication and provide evidence implicating land-sea flow with trophic transfer through marine invertebrates as the most likely route of exposure. This hypothesis was evaluated through environmental detection of potential freshwater and marine microcystin sources, sea otter necropsy with biochemical analysis of tissues and evaluation of bioaccumulation of freshwater microcystins by marine invertebrates. Ocean discharge of freshwater microcystins was confirmed for three nutrient-impaired rivers flowing into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and microcystin concentrations up to 2,900 ppm (2.9 million ppb) were detected in a freshwater lake and downstream tributaries to within 1 km of the ocean. Deaths of 21 southern sea otters, a federally listed threatened species, were linked to microcystin intoxication. Finally, farmed and free-living marine clams, mussels and oysters of species that are often consumed by sea otters and humans exhibited significant biomagnification (to 107 times ambient water levels) and slow depuration of freshwater cyanotoxins, suggesting a potentially serious environmental and public health threat that extends from the lowest trophic levels of nutrient-impaired freshwater habitat to apex marine predators. Microcystin-poisoned sea otters were commonly recovered near river mouths and harbors and contaminated marine bivalves were implicated as the most likely source of this potent hepatotoxin for wild otters. This is the first report of deaths of marine mammals due to cyanotoxins and confirms the existence of a novel class of marine “harmful algal bloom” in the Pacific coastal environment; that of hepatotoxic shellfish poisoning (HSP), suggesting that animals and humans are at risk from microcystin poisoning when consuming shellfish harvested at the land-sea interface.
PMCID: PMC2936937  PMID: 20844747
9.  A unified approach to molecular epidemiology investigations: tools and patterns in California as a case study for endemic shigellosis 
Shigellosis causes diarrheal disease in humans from both developed and developing countries, and multi-drug resistance is an emerging problem. The objective of this study is to present a unified approach that can be used to characterize endemic and outbreak patterns of shigellosis using use a suite of epidemiologic and molecular techniques. The approach is applied to a California case study example of endemic shigellosis at the population level.
Epidemiologic patterns were evaluated with respect to demographics, multi-drug resistance, antimicrobial resistance genes, plasmid profiles, and pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) fingerprints for the 43 Shigella isolates obtained by the Monterey region health departments over the two year period from 2004-2005.
The traditional epidemiologic as well as molecular epidemiologic findings were consistent with endemic as compared to outbreak shigellosis in this population. A steady low level of cases was observed throughout the study period and high diversity was observed among strains. In contrast to most studies in developed countries, the predominant species was Shigella flexneri (51%) followed closely by S. sonnei (49%). Over 95% of Shigella isolates were fully resistant to three or more antimicrobial drug subclasses, and 38% of isolates were resistant to five or more subclasses. More than half of Shigella strains tested carried the tetB, catA, or blaTEM genes for antimicrobial resistance to tetracycline, chloramphenicol, and ampicillin, respectively.
This study shows how epidemiologic patterns at the host and bacterial population levels can be used to investigate endemic as compared to outbreak patterns of shigellosis in a community. Information gathered as part of such investigations will be instrumental in identifying emerging antimicrobial resistance, for developing treatment guidelines appropriate for that community, and to provide baseline data with which to compare outbreak strains in the future.
PMCID: PMC2788569  PMID: 19930709
10.  Enteric bacterial pathogen detection in southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) is associated with coastal urbanization and freshwater runoff 
Veterinary Research  2009;41(1):01.
Although protected for nearly a century, California’s sea otters have been slow to recover, in part due to exposure to fecally-associated protozoal pathogens like Toxoplasma gondii and Sarcocystis neurona. However, potential impacts from exposure to fecal bacteria have not been systematically explored. Using selective media, we examined feces from live and dead sea otters from California for specific enteric bacterial pathogens (Campylobacter, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, C. difficile and Escherichia coli O157:H7), and pathogens endemic to the marine environment (Vibrio cholerae, V. parahaemolyticus and Plesiomonas shigelloides). We evaluated statistical associations between detection of these pathogens in otter feces and demographic or environmental risk factors for otter exposure, and found that dead otters were more likely to test positive for C. perfringens, Campylobacter and V. parahaemolyticus than were live otters. Otters from more urbanized coastlines and areas with high freshwater runoff (near outflows of rivers or streams) were more likely to test positive for one or more of these bacterial pathogens. Other risk factors for bacterial detection in otters included male gender and fecal samples collected during the rainy season when surface runoff is maximal. Similar risk factors were reported in prior studies of pathogen exposure for California otters and their invertebrate prey, suggesting that land-sea transfer and/or facilitation of pathogen survival in degraded coastal marine habitat may be impacting sea otter recovery. Because otters and humans share many of the same foods, our findings may also have implications for human health.
PMCID: PMC2769548  PMID: 19720009
Campylobacter; Clostridium; sea otter; Salmonella; Vibrio
11.  Climate and On-Farm Risk Factors Associated with Giardia duodenalis Cysts in Storm Runoff from California Coastal Dairies▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2007;73(21):6972-6979.
Climatic factors and on-farm management practices were evaluated for their association with the concentrations (cyst/liter) and instantaneous loads (cysts/second) of Giardia duodenalis in storm-based runoff from dairy lots and other high-cattle-use areas on five coastal California farms over two storm seasons. Direct fluorescent antibody analysis was used to quantitate cysts in 350 storm runoff samples. G. duodenalis was detected on all five dairy farms, with fluxes of 1 to 14,000 cysts/liter observed in 16% of samples. Cysts were detected in 41% of runoff samples collected near cattle less than 2 months old, compared to 10% of runoff samples collected near cattle over 6 months old. Furthermore, the concentrations and instantaneous loads of cysts were ≥65 and ≥79 times greater, respectively, in runoff from sites housing young calves than in sites housing other age classes of animals. Factors associated with environmental loading of G. duodenalis included cattle age, cattle stocking number, and precipitation but not lot area, land slope, or cattle density. Vegetated buffer strips were found to significantly reduce waterborne cysts in storm runoff: each additional meter of vegetated buffer placed below high-cattle-use areas was associated with reductions in the concentration and instantaneous load of cysts by factors of 0.86 and 0.79 (−0.07 and −0.10 log10/m), respectively. Straw mulch, seed application, scraping of manure, and cattle exclusion did not significantly affect the concentration or load of G. duodenalis cysts. The study findings suggest that vegetated buffer strips, especially when placed near dairy calf areas, should help reduce the environmental loading of these fecal protozoa discharging from dairy farms.
PMCID: PMC2074936  PMID: 17873066

Results 1-11 (11)