Question & Answer

Can COVID-19 (Coronavirus) live in water?

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  • On May 11th 2020, the Prime Minister of Britain, Boris Johnston, said during a statement addressing the UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy: “The intention is that the covid alert system, in time, will be sufficiently sensitive and flexible to detect local flare-ups, so that, for instance, if the covid is detected in the water supply of a certain town or in a school in an area, steps can be taken on the spot to deal with that flare-up and measures taken to keep the R (reproductive number) down locally as well as nationally.”
  • A video of this statement was then circulated on social media, with concerns that the virus was being transmitted in the drinking water supply.
  • An official spokesperson for Boris Johnston later clarified that Mr Johnson was speaking about wastewater: “Yes, that specifically is a reference to sewage or wastewater, as it is more politely described.”
  • SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has been found in the faeces of some patients diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • Researchers have found the COVID-19 virus in wastewater in some countries including Italy, Spain, Australia and Japan.
  • SARS-CoV-2 has not been found in drinking water, according to the CDC, Environmental Protection Agency and WHO. Based on current evidence, the risk to water supplies is low.
  • Other coronaviruses, such as the virus that causes SARS, survive in wastewater for a limited time. Their structure (enveloped viruses), generally makes them less stable in water than other viruses (WHO, 2020). Bleach and chlorine rapidly inactivate the SARS virus, which is similar to the COVID-19 coronavirus.
  • The CDC also advises that there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread to people through recreational waters, and that proper cleaning and disinfection of pool water should inactivate the virus.
  • There has not been any confirmed report of the virus spreading from faeces to a person, though the possibility cannot be ruled out and currently, we do not know if people can contract the COVID-19 virus from exposure to faeces in recreational waters.

Things to Remember

Reviewers

  • Lead Researcher: Dr Nikita Burke, College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Evidence Synthesis Ireland NUI Galway
  • Reviewed by: Elaine Finucane, HRB-Trials Methodology Research Network, School of Nursing and Midwifery, NUI Galway.
  • Evidence Advisor: Prof Liam Glynn, Graduate Entry Medical, University of Limerick
  • Evidence Advisor: Anne Daly, PPI Ignite, NUI Galway.
  • Journalist Advisor: Dr Claire O’Connell, Contributor, The Irish Times.