Coronavirus in wastewater: how contagious could it be?

According to a new global study, the novel coronavirus can pose a serious threat in wastewater. Since infected people emit SARS-CoV-2, wastewater samples could provide an indication of the infection numbers of all residents connected to a sewage treatment plant. So there is a reason to worry about how long a coronavirus will survive in wastewater and how it could affect natural water sources. With sufficient sensitivity, these analyzes could function as an early warning system for authorities. In addition, this would enable the early detection of local increases in cases in the catchment area of ​​a sewage treatment plant.

Could coronavirus be contagious in wastewater?

Transmission of coronavirus in wastewater assess the risk of infection

The new paper evaluates current studies on coronaviruses in sewage and previous infectious diseases, including SARS and MERS. The aim is to evaluate potential threats, research routes and possible solutions and to gain advantageous perspectives for the future. So can wastewater contain enough coronavirus to infect people? The simple truth is that researchers don’t know enough and that this needs to be fixed as soon as possible. For this reason, the study authors point out that wastewater entering natural watercourses can lead to airborne infection. Similarly, treated wastewater used to fill recreational water facilities such as lakes and rivers could also become a source of contamination. Finally, fruits and vegetables irrigated with wastewater that have not been properly disinfected could also be an indirect route of infection.

irrigation system for plants taken from the air with a bird's eye view

The research team recommends new tests immediately after the study to determine the extent of a possible infection. This allows experts to determine how long coronaviruses can withstand different bodies of water. Sewage treatment plants would have to improve their treatment protocols and, in the near future, move forward to tertiary treatment through micro and ultrafiltration with membranes that successfully remove viruses. At the same time, sewage can serve as a canary in a coal mine as it can be monitored to track COVID-19 outbreaks. Coronaviruses appear in the feces before other symptoms, such as fever and cough, appear in otherwise asymptomatic people. Regular monitoring can therefore warn the authorities of trouble spots.

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