Can COVID-19 Be Spread By Water?

By Adrian Delgado

Mar. 16, 2020 10:21 GMT

Although the persistence of COVID-19 in drinking water is possible, no evidence has been found of its presence in surface water or groundwater sources or of its transmission through contaminated drinking water. COVID-19 is a virus with an envelope. Enveloped viruses are generally less stable in the environment and are more susceptible to oxidants, such as chlorine. Although there is no evidence to date on the survival of COVID-19 in water or wastewater, it is likely to be inactivated much more rapidly than some non-enveloped human enteric viruses with known waterborne transmission (such as rotaviruses, adenoviruses, and hepatitis A). For example, one study found that a human strain coronavirus survived only 2 days in chlorine-free tap water and hospital wastewater at 20°C (1).

Other studies agree that the human strain coronavirus of transmissible gastroenteritis and the mouse hepatitis virus showed a death of 99.9% in 2 days (2) at 23° C and 2 weeks (3) at 25° C. Heat, high or low pH, UV radiation from sunlight and common disinfectants (such as chlorine) facilitate their inactivation and elimination.

It is uncertain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 will survive on surfaces, but it seems likely that it will behave like other types of coronavirus. A recent review of human strain coronavirus survival on surfaces found a large variability, ranging from 2 hours to 9 days (4). Survival time depends on several factors, such as the type of surface, temperature, relative humidity and the specific strain of virus. The same review also found that effective inactivation could be achieved in 1 minute using common disinfectants such as 70% ethanol or sodium hypochlorite.



Document based on: Organization WH (2020) Water, sanitation, hygiene and waste management for COVID-19: technical brief, 03 March 2020. Click here

1)     Wang XW, Li JS, Zhen B, Kong QX, Song N, Xiao WJ et al. Study on the resistance of severe acute respiratory syndrome-associated coronavirus. J Virol Methods. 2005;126:171−7. doi:10.1016/j.jviromet.2005.02.005.

2)     Gundy P, Gerba CP, Pepper IL. Survival of coronaviruses in water and wastewater. Food Environ Virol. 2009;1:10-14. doi:10.1007/s12560-008-9001-6.

3)     Casanova L, Rutalal WA, Weber DJ, Sobsey MD. Survival of surrogate coronaviruses in water. Water Res. 2009;43(7):1893–8. doi:10.1016/j.watres.2009.02.002.

4)     Kampf G, Todt D, Pfaender S, Steinmann E. Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and their inactivation with biocidal agents. J Hosp Infect. 2020;104(3):246−51. doi:10.1016/j.jhin.2020.01.022.


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