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Current Affairs

Can COVID-19 spread through wastewater?

Date: 07 May 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

The response to the global pandemic has focused upon preventing person-to-person transmission. Now, experts have stressed that the virus could also be spread in wastewater.

 

Background

We know that Covid-19 is spread through droplets from coughs and sneezes, or via objects or materials that carry infection. However, it has recently been confirmed that the virus can also be found in human faeces.

 

Details

  • It is not yet known whether the virus can be transmitted via the faecal-oral route, however, we know that viral shedding from the digestive system can last longer than shedding from the respiratory tract.

  • The research presents the example of the SARS outbreak in 2002-03, when the SARS-CoV1 virus (closely linked to the SARS-CoV2 virus that causes Covid-19) was detected in sewage discharged by two hospitals in China.

  • As most Covid-19 patients are asymptomatic or experience just mild symptoms and remain at home, and not in hospitals, there is significant risk of “widespread” distribution through sewers.

  • The structural makeup of the virus suggests that it will behave differently in aqueous environments. There is currently limited information on the environmental persistence of Covid-19, but other coronaviruses can remain viable in sewage for up to 14 days.

  • Atmospheric loading of coronaviruses in water droplets from wastewater is poorly understood but could provide a more direct respiratory route for human exposure, particularly at sewage pumping stations, wastewater treatment works and near waterways that are receiving wastewater.

  • Risk could be further increased in parts of the world with high levels of open defecation, or where safely managed sanitation systems are limited and waterways are used as both open sewers and sources of water for domestic purposes.