Different abundance and correlational patterns exist between total and presumed pathogenicVibrio vulnificusandV. parahaemolyticusin shellfish and waters along the North Carolina coast

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Monitoring of Vibrio vulnificus and V. parahaemolyticus abundance is pertinent due to the ability of these species to cause disease in humans through aquatic vectors. Previously, we performed a multiyear investigation tracking Vibrio spp. levels in five sites along the southeastern North Carolina coast. From February 2013 to October 2015, total V. vulnificus and V. parahaemolyticus abundance was measured in water, oysters and clams. In the current study, pathogenic subpopulations were identified in these isolates using molecular markers, revealing that 5.3% of V. vulnificus isolates possessed the virulence-correlated gene (vcgC), and 1.9% of V. parahaemolyticus isolates harbored one or both of the virulence-associated hemolysin genes (tdh and trh). Total V. parahaemolyticus abundance was not sufficient to predict the abundance of pathogenic subpopulations. Specifically, pathogenic V. parahaemolyticus isolates were more often isolated in cooler waters and were sometimes isolated when no other V. parahaemolyticus strains were detectable. Vibrio vulnificus clinical (C-) genotypes correlated with total V. vulnificus; however, salinity, water depth and total suspended solids influenced C- and E-genotypes differently. Lastly, we documented individual oysters harboring significantly higher V. vulnificus levels for which there was no ecological explanation, a phenomenon that deserves closer attention due to the potentially elevated health hazard associated with these ‘hot’ shellfish.

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