3rd Jun 2020

COVID-19 FAQ: can you get infected by SARS-CoV-2 from water?

3rd Jun 2020

Curated by Endre Szvetnik

Currently, there is no scientific evidence that we can catch the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 from drinking water or from swimming in it.

Girl swimming in a pool

A 2005 study found that the original SARS-CoV virus found in water could be completely inactivated with chlorine in 10-30 minutes. This was further supported by a recent scoping review paper (reviewing the literature to date on the subject and summarising 12 research articles) which found that these kinds of viruses were very sensitive to oxidants (like chlorine) used in standard water purification methods. (When chlorine is added to disinfect water, a reaction occurs releasing hypochlorous acid. This molecule can cut through the cell walls of viruses and bacteria and kill them.) The researchers have also determined that coronaviruses – whose particles are encapsulated in a fatty layer called an envelope – deactivate in water much faster than non-enveloped human viruses, which can spread and infect through water. They have also concluded that these coronaviruses rapidly lose their ability to infect at 23-25 °C in water.

So, is it OK to drink tap water and go for a swim when the pools open? Yes. Up to now, SARS-CoV-2 was not detected in drinking water and the influential US agency, the Center for Disease Control says that conventional treatment methods that use filtration and disinfection should remove or inactivate SARS-CoV-2 from the water supply. As to the swimming pools opening after lockdowns, the main risk of transmission is still other people and not the water itself. Experts suggest following the same social distancing and hygiene guidelines as in dry environments.

However, it’s important to mention that the virus could still be present in other wet environments, like in wastewater. People who are already infected but do not show any symptoms could be shedding the virus in their stools, which is washed away in sewage. And according to an Italian study, monitoring sewage for SARS-CoV-2 can provide valuable information to policymakers about the amount of virus circulating in a given community.

Here is the current state of science on a Sparrho pinboard. NB: The pinboard contains research papers that have not been peer-reviewed yet, meaning that they have not gone through the standard scientific validation process yet.

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Curated by

Endre Szvetnik

Endre Szvetnik is Senior Editor at Sparrho. Endre works with Sparrho Heroes to curate, translate and disseminate scientific research to the wider public.

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