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Virulence Genes among Enterococcus faecalis and Enterococcus faecium Isolated from Coastal Beaches and Human and Nonhuman Sources in Southern California and Puerto Rico.

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Most Enterococcus faecalis and E. faecium are harmless to humans; however, strains harboring virulence genes, including esp, gelE, cylA, asa1, and hyl, have been associated with human infections. E. faecalis and E. faecium are present in beach waters worldwide, yet little is known about their virulence potential. Here, multiplex PCR was used to compare the distribution of virulence genes among E. faecalis and E. faecium isolated from beaches in Southern California and Puerto Rico to isolates from potential sources including humans, animals, birds, and plants. All five virulence genes were found in E. faecalis and E. faecium from beach water, mostly among E. faecalis. gelE was the most common among isolates from all source types. There was a lower incidence of asa1, esp, cylA, and hyl genes among isolates from beach water, sewage, septage, urban runoff, sea wrack, and eelgrass as compared to human isolates, indicating that virulent strains of E. faecalis and E. faecium may not be widely disseminated at beaches. A higher frequency of asa1 and esp among E. faecalis from dogs and of asa1 among birds (mostly seagull) suggests that further studies on the distribution and virulence potential of strains carrying these genes may be warranted.

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