Relationships Between Environmental Factors and Pathogenic Vibrios in the Northern Gulf of Mexico

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Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory


Although autochthonous vibrio densities are known to be influenced by water temperature and salinity, little is understood about other environmental factors associated with their abundance and distribution. Densities of culturable Vibrio vulnificus containing vvh (V. vulnificus hemolysin gene) and V. parahaemolyticus containing tlh (thermolabile hemolysin gene, ubiquitous in V. parahaemolyticus), tdh (thermostable direct hemolysin gene, V. parahaemolyticus pathogenicity factor), and trh (tdh-related hemolysin gene, V. parahaemolyticus pathogenicity factor) were measured in coastal waters of Mississippi and Alabama. Over a 19-month sampling period, vibrio densities in water, oysters, and sediment varied significantly with sea surface temperature (SST). On average, tdh-to-tlh ratios were significantly higher than trh-to-tlh ratios in water and oysters but not in sediment. Although tlh densities were lower than vvh densities in water and in oysters, the opposite was true in sediment. Regression analysis indicated that SST had a significant association with vvh and tlh densities in water and oysters, while salinity was significantly related to vibrio densities in the water column. Chlorophyll a levels in the water were correlated significantly with vvh in sediment and oysters and with pathogenic V. parahaemolyticus (tdh and trh) in the water column. Furthermore, turbidity was a significant predictor of V. parahaemolyticus density in all sample types (water, oyster, and sediment), and its role in predicting the risk of V. parahaemolyticus illness may be more important than previously realized. This study identified (i) culturable vibrios in winter sediment samples, (ii) niche-based differences in the abundance of vibrios, and (iii) predictive signatures resulting from correlations between environmental parameters and vibrio densities.

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Applied and Environmental Microbiology





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