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COVID-19 in Wastewater Poses Serious Health Threat

COVID-19 in Wastewater Poses Serious Health Threat

August 30, 2020

Desert & Water Research

ISRAEL21c — Wastewater containing coronavirus may be a serious public health threat, according to a new global study led by researchers from BGU’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research.

Published in Nature Sustainability, the paper by an international collaboration of 35 researchers evaluates recent studies on COVID-19 in wastewater and previous airborne infectious diseases, including SARS and MERS.

The goal is to evaluate potential threats, avenues of research and possible solutions, as well as garner beneficial perspectives for the future.

Dr. Edo Bar-Zeev

“There is ample reason to be concerned about how long coronaviruses survive in wastewater and how it impacts natural water sources,” said lead author Dr. Edo Bar-Zeev, incumbent of the institute’s Roy J. Zuckerberg Career Development Chair for Water Research.

“Can wastewater contain enough coronaviruses to infect people? The simple truth is that we do not know enough and that needs to be rectified as soon as possible,” says Dr. Bar-Zeev.

Dr. Bar-Zeev and his postdoc student, Anne Bogler, suspect that sewage leaking into natural waterways might lead to infection via airborne spray.

Treated wastewater used to fill recreational lakes and rivers could also become sources of contagion.

And perhaps most alarming, another possible indirect infection route is fruits and vegetables that were irrigated with improperly disinfected wastewater.

The BGU research team recommends immediate, new research to determine the level of potential infection, if any, and how long coronaviruses last in various bodies of water and spray.

“Wastewater treatment plants need to upgrade their treatment protocols and in the near future also advance toward tertiary treatment through micro- and ultra-filtration membranes, which successfully remove viruses,” Dr. Bar-Zeev and his colleagues suggest.

Several BGU researchers are working on developing advanced water nanofiltration technologies.

At the same time, wastewater can serve as a canary in a coal mine because it can be monitored to track COVID-19 outbreaks.

Coronavirus starts showing up in feces before other symptoms, like fever and cough show up in otherwise asymptomatic people.

Regular monitoring, therefore, can give authorities advance warning of hot spots.

Researchers from BGU and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology recently completed a pilot study with Israeli company Kando in Ashkelon using new methodology to detect and trace the virus in sewage. They were able to calculate its concentration to pinpoint emerging COVID-19 hotspots.

BGU researchers who contributed to the study include Profs. Amit Gross, Noam Weisbrod, Oded Nir, Osnat Gillor, Shai Arnon, Yakir Berchenko, Zeev Ronen, Ariel Kushmaro, Avner Ronen and Jacob Moran-Gilad.

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