As of late on January 30, 2020, the official number of 2019-nCoV coronavirus infections is 9776 with 213 deaths. The US, Japan, Germany, Canada, and other nations have confirmed it is spreading in their countries via person-to-person transmission. Consequently, it is very likely the number of cases and deaths is going to continue to skyrocket for the foreseeable future.
While the focus so far has been on fears of transmissions from poor food safety in China and person-to-person transmission, there are other potential transmission pathways. Many viruses, including SARS and other coronaviruses, are shed through urine and feces.
Consequently, possible transmission paths for viruses are sewage, waters into which sewage flows, and anything these may directly or indirectly contact such as farm fields and water supplies. In the US, inadequately treated sewage sludge is turned into fertilizer that could end up contaminating food crops, so this is a significant risk.
If food and water can be contaminated, what might be done to reduce the risk? There are some ideas on this towards the end of this article.
Research on Coronavirus in Sewage
Live coronavirus in sewage is a demonstrated fact based upon studies done regarding the SARS virus.
The transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV) is associated with close contact to SARS patients and droplet secretions of those patients. The finding of positive RT-PCR results from stools of SARS patients suggests that stools of SARS patients or sewage containing stools of patients could transmit SARS-CoV. We used a novel style of electropositive filter media particle to concentrate the SARS-CoV from the sewage of two hospitals receiving SARS patients in Beijing. We also used cell culture, RT-PCR and gene sequencing to detect and identify the viruses from sewage. No infectious SARS-CoV contamination was found in any of the samples collected, but the nucleic acid of SARS-CoV could be detected in the sewage from the two hospitals before disinfection. While the RNA was only detected in three samples from the 309th Hospital, the others were negative after disinfection. These findings provide strong evidence that SARS-CoV can be excreted through the stool/urine of patients into sewage system, thus making the sewage system a possible route of transmission.
The SARS epidemic had potential links to water and wastewater given that the March 2003 outbreak at the high-rise housing estate in Hong Kong involving over 300 people was linked to a faulty sewage system (Peiris et al. 2003). The fact that SARS-CoV can replicate in the enteric tract (Leung et al. 2003) makes it a possible enteric pathogen, and the incidence of diarrhea ranging from 8 to 73% in SARS cases (SARS Epidemiology Working Group 2003) causes concern about its potential environmental transmission. Leung et al. (2003) also reported that viral cultures from SARS patients recovered higher yields from the small intestine than the lung tissues, which are the target organs of this virus. Infectious virus has been cultured from stools of SARS patients up to 3 weeks post infection (Chan et al. 2004; Liu et al. 2004). The advent of SARS and the question of its transmission indicate the need for more information, specifically the survival of coronavirus in water and wastewater.
Mainland Chinese Seldom Wash Hands
An international study investigating hygiene standards found that only 23% of mainland Chinese wash their hands using soap after using the toilet, the lowest of any nation. For comparison, the most diligent at washing hands are those in Saudi Arabia (97%). The US is somewhere in between, at 77%.
Such abject failure to practice basic hygiene is going to spread diseases that are transmissible via urine and feces. As of this writing, China has by far the most reported infections, the US has some, and Saudi Arabia has none. So the official data matches up well with basic hygiene practices. Of course there are likely to be many other factors at work, also, but do not underestimate how important this one factor may be.
Even in USA, Public Contact With Sewage Is Not Uncommon
You may think you are not likely to come into contact with sewage, but unfortunately it is very possible.
Even in the USA, it is common for city sewer systems to overflow into rivers and other bodies of water from which irrigation water and even drinking water may be drawn. Often this overflow is raw untreated sewage.
For instance, Washington, D.C., which is considering whether to renegotiate its own deal with the E.P.A., is currently drilling the second of three mammoth tunnels designed for one thing: to hold 190 million gallons of untreated sewage and storm water. The tunnels will be used when the city’s aging sewer system is overwhelmed, so that untreated wastewater doesn’t flow into the Anacostia River, as it now does 15 to 20 times a year.
Composting Human Bodies Now Legal
Recently, the State of Washington legalized composting of human bodies as a method of disposal. Compost is a type of fermented fertilizer, and presumably that fertilizer would be used to grow plants. Whether it is used on a lawn, a forest, or somebody’s vegetable garden depends upon the user.
Since 2019-nCoV coronavirus infections are turning out to be asymptomatic for up to two weeks and yet still be infectious, it is not unreasonable to think that somebody could be infected, have the virus spreading through the body, and then die from some other cause such as a car accident or heart attack. Then the body could end up in a compost pile.
How long will the viruses last during the composting process? Will they be completely eliminated by the process?
Based upon the reseach quoted above, bacterial activity in sewage and compost is likely to more rapidly degrade coronavirus than others, for example polio and hepatitis C viruses. But it takes time for this degradation to happen, multiple days or longer, and it is dependent upon many environmental factors that can speed up or slow down the composting bacteria and fungi.
It could well be that the end product of the composting has no human pathogen viruses remaining, even if coronavirus infected bodies were included in the compost pile.
But in the interim, could there be runoff from the compost pile that gets into a waterway or flow away to land used to grow food or used for a park or other public place?
Sewage In A Bag From Home Depot
In the US, unlike most other developed nations, sewage solids are minimally processed, dried (but not completely), bagged, and sold as nitrogen rich fertilizers. For instance, you can buy “Milorganite” (sewage from Milwaukee, Wisconsin) for use on your own property without any permit or license. It is not difficult to buy this product. You can even order it from Home Depot.
The documentary Biosludged explains more about this in disturbing detail.
Such products are often labeled suggesting they can be used on trees, shrubs, and lawns. But what is stopping somebody from unsafely applying them to land used for agricultural crops?
Even when used on non-agricultural land, a rain storm or snow melt could wash pathogens and toxins (such as heavy metals and pharmaceutical drugs) from the sewage fertilizer onto soil used for food crops.
Or animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, deer, and elk could graze on plants fertilized with these products and become infected or contaminated.
Or you might walk on a lawn or area so fertilized or which had run-off from such fertilizer and get these pathogens and contaminants on your shoes.
Or your pet dog could get it on him and then spread it to you.
So Many Ways To Be Infected
From any of the scenarios above, it is easy to imagine ending up with viral particles or other pathogens on your shoes, clothing, and maybe on your food or in your kitchen.
Once that happens, infecting yourself is readily possible.
Coronavirus is commonly thought of as being infectious via respiratory pathways, but it can also infect through the eyes and intestines.
So you could take a walk with your dog in a park, go home and take off your shoes, and now you have viruses on your fingers. You pet your dog, or your dog jumps on your furniture. Then you rub your eyes or forget to wash your hands before you eat.
This is how you might have contract coronavirus or other pathogens that can be transmitted via sewage, even in a supposedly developed nation like the US.
Thus you could being infected with coronavirus even though you did not recently visit China or meet anybody who did, wore a N95 mask every day when you went out, and avoided going to disease-spreading hospitals and doctor’s offices.
Multiply that by how the infected are themselves infectious to others for up to two weeks before they develop symptoms.
Alarming, isn’t it?
Basic Actions You Can Take
Basic sanitation and food preparation steps like washing hands and washing dishes well are important.
Use disinfecting solutions such as diluted bleach on surfaces that may be contaminated.
Thoroughly cook foods that may have been contaminated.
Unfortunately, thorough cooking may destroy enzymes and nutrients that exist in fresh foods.
Enhancing Foods and Drinks to Fight Illness
Destroying enzymes and nutrients during cooking is a big problem. Most enzymes are ruined around 120 degrees F in dry conditions and around 150 degrees F in water.
Vitamin C is one of the most easily ruined nutrients. Most animals make large quantities of vitamin C to help immune function when they are sick, but humans lack one of the enzymes needed to do this. Consequently, it is worth some attention and effort to boost vitamin C levels in your foods and drinks.
Exposure to air, especially in finely cut vegetables and fruits, oxidizes the vitamin C. Consider cutting larger pieces and waiting to cut them until as close to food consumption as possible.
Heating speeds up oxidation which uses up antioxidants such as vitamin C.
Boiling or other methods of cooking foods directly immersed in water will leach much of the vitamin C into the cooking water, where it will be lost if the water is not consumed. If you can, use cooking methods that do not involve immersing the foods into water that will be discarded. This will help keep water soluble vitamins C and most forms of B vitamins in the food.
Steaming is a good choice if possible because the wet heat may preserve more of the enzymes than dry heat. If you do need to boil, maybe consider making a soup so the water with the vitamins is also consumed.
Boosting Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a major concern as the levels in foods are already very low even before preparation. The camu camu berry is one of the few foods to offer vitamin C levels approaching what you can get in a supplement, almost everything else is tiny compared to what you can get with supplements.
Research shows that even low doses of supplemental vitamin C can make a huge difference in outcomes in sick humans. One study in elderly patients hospitalized for respiratory infections found that even as little as 200 mg per day of vitamin C improved symptoms and reduced deaths by 80%. This seems particularly applicable given the elderly are experiencing so high a death rate from COVID-19.
Consider adding vitamin C to your foods and drinks near the end of preparation so you will get maximum benefit and everybody can consume it.
Adding a non-GMO vitamin C powder to soups, smoothies, and drinks is really easy to do. As it is water soluble, you can add about a gram (which is for most powders around 1/4 teaspoon) to the liquid and stir to dissolve. This is a great way to get vitamin C into people like kids and the elderly who may have trouble swallowing tablets or capsules.
If you overdo it with large quantities of vitamin C, you may cause diarrhea. Generally that is not a problem if you are consuming a gram or two of it with a meal.
If you are not actually sick, it generally doesn’t make sense to be consuming more than that at once anyway because digestive absorption of vitamin C falls off rapidly beyond a gram at a time which is part of what produces the diarrhea effect. Some people who are constipated actually intentionally take several grams of vitamin C at once to get the pipes moving.
Interestingly, sick people are known to be able to absorb much higher quantities of vitamin C than healthy people. Apparently the body knows it is needed.
Vitamin C Immune Boosting Drinks
There are products such as vitamin C immune boosting drink powders that combine vitamin C with other nutrients that may help against viruses (e.g. L-lysine and EGCG such as from green tea) along with flavors into a convenient form. Even if you do not buy such a product, studying the ingredients may give you ideas how to make your own drink.
We make a health boosting drink often one or two times per day. Into such drinks and smoothies we mix non-GMO vitamin C powder and L-lysine powder for their immune boosting properties, glycine powder to improve taste (it tastes sweet) and for its health-promoting qualities (it is a huge part of what makes bone broths so healthy and is important to liver detoxification processes), and taurine powder for nervous system and cardiovascular health.
The glycine and taurine are also known to improve sleep for many people. Some people take them just for that purpose.
These powders all taste fine.
The glycine will especially go over well with people who like sweet drinks. As it is an amino acid (component of proteins), it will not spike blood sugar because it is not a carbohydrate and you don’t have to worry about it being some artificial sweetener with bad effects.
All of these will dissolve fine into most any drink or smoothie, even plain water.
For added flavor and other benefits, you can mix in some kombucha (offer probiotics), organic ginger powder (anti-inflammatory compounds), and/or organic Ceylon cinnamon powder (helps regulate blood sugar and has anti-viral properties of its own) and adjust the glycine to your desired level of sweetness.
Licorice Root Anti-viral
Another option is licorice root tea powder. Licorice root is well-known for the anti-viral and liver-protecting properties of its constituent glycyrrhizin. You can make the tea first, then add the vitamin C, and at the end adjust glycine for sweetness as licorice root has sweetness of its own.
The best-selling (and recently selling out!) book Herbal Antivirals has a very extensive discussion of licorice root and how to use it against viruses, including coronaviruses and SARS that most likely applies to COVID-19, also. It recommends that if you are using licorice root in large quantities and/or for long times to also consume added glycine (minimum 2 grams per day), cysteine (minimum 500 mg per day, probably from cysteine capsules or tablets as it does not taste good as a powder), and potassium (5000 mg per day) to help avoid possible side effects. Further, it recommends taking licorice root with other anti-viral herbs such as Chinese skullcap for synergistic effect.
Potassium citrate powder and potassium chloride powder are easy ways to add more potassium to drinks without changing the taste much. I usually use 1/8 teaspoon of each plus 1/8 teaspoon of Himalayan sea salt in a drink around 12 ounces in size. You should also focus on eating lots of leafy greens to boost your potassium intake, plus they offer many other nutrients packed into a low-calorie fiber-rich package.
Fat-soluble Vitamin C
Another method to boost vitamin C in foods is to add liposomal vitamin C. This is vitamin C encapsulated in microscopic amounts of lecithin. Since lecithin is an emulsifier that helps combine fat and water soluble ingredients, this often mixes well into drinks, especially if they contain some fat such as smoothies. Also, it absorbs very well through the digestive tract. Even at doses of many grams of vitamin C in liposomal form, it will not cause the sort of digestive upset that many grams of vitamin C powder might.
Unfortunately, pre-made liposomal vitamin C is expensive, so you may want to learn to make your own and/or save it for when people are actually sick and can benefit from much larger doses of vitamin C. You can use the vitamin C powder as discussed above with meals to get a few grams per day spaced out during the day so it is absorbed well and stays available in your bloodstream.
Using Fermented Foods To Reduce Pathogens and Improve Nutrition
You can add fermented foods to your diet to restore enzymes and and some nutrients destroyed by cooking. As an added bonus, they are already pre-digested to help the whole digestive process work better.
If fermented foods are made from viral contaminated ingredients, there is still some risk from them. But given how microorganisms in sewage were found to slowly kill off or weaken human pathogenic viruses, it is likely that fermenting foods will also slowly kill off or weaken such viruses.
Korean researchers found that the lactic acid bacteria in kimchi weaken and kill influenza virus. Some speculate kimchi may have offered some protection to Koreans during the SARS coronavirus outbreak in 2002 to 2003.
Other researchers point to how fermented foods can activate the immune system.
In any case, it appears if there is some risk of viral contamination in fresh foods, fermenting them could lower that risk while providing other benefits.
A big bonus to learning how to make your own fermented foods in this time of pandemic is that these foods can be stored for longer periods of time. With food supplies in question now with the coronavirus spreading into agricultural powerhouse states such as California that provide so much food shipped around the nation and the world, being able to turn vegetables, dairy, and other foods into a form that is more resistant to infection and can remain consumable for months could be of great importance.
Fermented Foods From Cultures Around The World
If you’re interested in a quick overview of common fermented foods that are easy to make yourself, visit our fermented foods page to find out more about making your own foods such as kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut. You can get a lot more variety at much lower cost if you’re willing to put in some preparation effort to make these foods from your own ingredients.
There are a huge variety of fermented foods from cultures around the world. They include beverages, cheeses, breads, meats, condiments, vegetables, and more. Probably the best book on the wide range of fermented foods is The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World by Sandor Katz. It’s a massive 500+ page collection of information on the history, science, and practice of fermentation for foods and other purposes.
Here are a few freely available interviews with Sandor Katz for you to enjoy:
The Art of Fermentation Sandor Katz Interview
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