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Journal of Environmental and Public Health
Volume 2011 (2011), Article ID 597073, 8 pages
Research Article

Risk Factors for Colonization of E. coli in Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Indian River Lagoon, Florida

1Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Program, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Florida Atlantic University, Ft. Pierce, FL 34946, USA
2Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, GA 30313, USA
3Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research, NOS, NOAA, Charleston, SC 29142, USA
4Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80532, USA

Received 9 June 2011; Revised 2 August 2011; Accepted 3 August 2011

Academic Editor: Pam R. Factor-Litvak

Copyright © 2011 Adam M. Schaefer et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Opportunistic pathogens related to degradation in water quality are of concern to both wildlife and public health. The objective of this study was to identify spatial, temporal, and environmental risk factors for E. coli colonization among Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) inhabiting the Indian River Lagoon (IRL), FL between 2003 and 2007. Age, gender, capture location, coastal human population density, proximity of sewage treatment plants, number of septic tanks, cumulative precipitation 48 hrs and 30 days prior to capture, salinity, and water temperature were analyzed as potential risk factors. Highest E. coli colonization rates occurred in the northern segments of the IRL. The risk of E. coli colonization was the highest among the youngest individuals, in counties with the highest cumulative rainfall 48 hrs and in counties with the highest number of septic systems during the year of capture. The prevalence of colonization was the highest during 2004, a year during which multiple hurricanes hit the coast of Florida. Septic tanks, in combination with weather-related events suggest a possible pathway for introduction of fecal coliforms into estuarine ecosystems. The ability of E. coli and related bacteria to act as primary pathogens or cause opportunistic infections adds importance of these findings.