Could Coronavirus Spread Through US Sewage, Waterways, and Food Supply?

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, one of the possible transmission paths for viruses is sewage and waters into which sewage flows.

Research on Coronavirus in Sewage

Live coronavirus in sewage is a demonstrated fact based upon studies done regarding the SARS virus.

Quote from Concentration and detection of SARS coronavirus in sewage from Xiao Tang Shan Hospital and the 309th Hospital:

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.

Quote from Survival of Coronaviruses in Water and Wastewater:

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.

Quote from E.P.A. Is Letting Cities Dump More Raw Sewage Into Rivers for Years to Come:

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.

Biosludged – Full Documentary – closed captioned (English)

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?

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.

You can add fermented foods to your diet to get some of these enzymes and nutrients back.

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 of 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.

More Articles Discussing 2019-nCoV Coronavirus

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