https://lgpress.clemson.edu

Water Systems Safety During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Introduction

On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak that originated in China, to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. By the end of April, 702,814 people infected with COVID-19 were identified in all fifty US states and five territories, with 14.6% of deaths attributed to pneumonia, influenza, or COVID-19.1

According to the Center for Disease Control, the COVID-19 virus is SARS-CoV-2.2 The disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus is referred to as COVID-19.3 The novel COVID-19 virus belongs to a larger group known as coronaviruses. While this is a novel virus and there is still much to be learned about it, it is closely related to the virus responsible for SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which is associated with a smaller epidemic from 2002 to 2003 and with MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), which is associated with an outbreak that began in 2012. After the original SARS outbreak in 2002, the virus was rigorously studied and the scientific community gained more information about its ability to persist in the environment and how the disease is transmitted. Both SARS-CoV (SARS) and SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) are suspected to have originated in wildlife animals and were transmitted to humans after being captured and sold as food.4

Consumers of drinking water systems, consumers and managers of livestock, and other agricultural producers that utilize water (i.e., for irrigation of crops) may be concerned that their water resources might become contaminated with the COVID-19 virus. Based on recent studies of COVID-19 and SARS, there is minimal concern for the spread of this novel coronavirus through domestic livestock and water sources.5, 6

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the COVID-19 virus is SARS-CoV-2.2 The novel COVID-19 virus belongs to a larger group known as coronaviruses. Little is known about the novel virus, but it is closely related to the virus responsible for SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which is associated with a smaller epidemic from 2002 to 2003 and with MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), which is associated with an outbreak that began in 2012.3 After the original SARS outbreak in 2002, the virus was rigorously studied, and the scientific community gained more information about its ability to persist in the environment and how the disease is transmitted. Both SARS-CoV (SARS) and SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) are suspected of having originated in wild animals that were captured and sold as food.4

Consumers of drinking water systems, consumers and managers of livestock, and other agricultural producers that utilize water (i.e., for irrigation of crops) may be concerned that their water resources might become contaminated with the COVID-19 virus. Based on recent studies of COVID-19 and SARS, there is minimal concern for the spread of this novel coronavirus through domestic livestock and water sources.5, 6

Drinking Water Sources

Municipal Water

Municipal water is the water from a tap that has been cleaned and treated at a water treatment facility. Since the beginning of the outbreak in the US, many states have been regularly testing municipal water for the presence of the COVID-19 virus. As of March 2020, the virus’ presence has not been detected in drinking water.7 The common practice of filtration and disinfection with chlorine to municipal water is sufficient to inactivate the COVID-19 virus.6

Well Water

Untreated well water is prone to containing an array of disease-causing microbes, but there is little evidence that the COVID-19 virus is among these. Many private well owners have home systems that treat water by filtration, UV light, chlorination, or some other mechanism. These systems are specifically designed to kill or deactivate most microbes, including viruses, and therefore treated well water should pose a minimal risk as a source of COVID-19.

For those without home treatment systems, untreated well water is unlikely to become significantly contaminated with the COVID-19 virus for a number of reasons. Firstly, coronaviruses cannot remain infectious in water for a significant period of time. At 68°F, COVID-19 lasts approximately two days in wastewater and dechlorinated tap water, while at 40°F, it lasts approximately fourteen days.8 Secondly, well water sourced from the ground has been filtered by the soil, which has been found to filter out and degrade most human pathogens.9 To bypass the soil barrier, contaminated water would have to enter directly at the owner’s well, at a neighboring well, or during a flooding event. Finally, well water contamination is more likely to be with fecal matter, whereas the COVID-19 virus is primarily a respiratory disease,10 frequently transmitted from one person to another via respiratory fluids. In the case of flooding or other disruption to water infrastructure, wells may be contaminated with fecal matter. There is evidence that COVID-19 can be present in feces and blood,11,12 however, in a study that examined seventy-two urine samples, none contained the COVID-19 virus.12 This is an emerging area of research, and people utilizing well water should consider doing the following: (1) Stay informed. Check the CDC and EPA websites13 for new information regarding virus sources, (b) have the integrity of the well system checked, and (c) investigate options for installing water treatment systems.

Surface Water

Surface water bodies such as lakes, streams, and ponds are commonly warmer than groundwater sources. However, water temperatures decrease with depth. Thus, the water temperature will depend on the depth of the water body and the location of the irrigation intake. If possible, move any drinking water intakes up to a few feet below the surface, to take advantage of the warmer temperature’s negative effect on the COVID-19 virus. Some municipalities utilize surface water as a source of potable water. As mentioned under the Municipal Water section above, filtered and chlorinated water harbors no viruses.

Can feces from birds, bats, and other animals contaminate surface waters with a coronavirus? Many (but not all) coronavirus strains are host specific to animals such as ferrets, mice, dogs, birds, bats, cows, and pigs.14 Concern exists that since COVID-19 originated most likely from bats,15 North American bats could become infected and provide a new reservoir for human re-infection in the US. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has asked scientists working with bats in the US to cease work to reduce the potential of passing the virus to the bats. To date, there is no information available on how long guano (bat feces) associated COVID-19 virus can persist in water. However, if bats in the US were to become infected and defecate in surface water sources, the challenge presented by the environment makes viral survival and infection of humans unlikely. The virus would first be significantly diluted, adversely affected by UV light from the sun, and inactivated by the higher temperatures of surface water.

Domestic Animals and Livestock

Domestic Pets

During the outbreak of COVID-19 in the US, a tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for the presence of the novel coronavirus.16 Although this has been the only known case of human-animal transmission in the US, this infection raises concern for animal owners and livestock producers. As of early May, there has been one report of humans transmitting COVID-19 to two companion cats in the US, and another report in Hong Kong of transmission to two pet dogs and a cat.17 A recent study documented that dogs are not susceptible to COVID-19; however, inoculated cats were able to transmit the disease to each other by airborne infection.18 There have been no reports to date regarding domestic pets spreading COVID-19 infection to humans. Individuals with COVID-19 should restrict their contact with animals, including preparing and serving food and water.

Livestock Handling and Water Access

The viruses that cause COVID-19 and SARS are suspected to have originated in wild animals and then transmitted to humans in live-animal markets.4 Scientists have tried to experimentally infect a range of livestock animals, including chickens, cows, and pigs, with SARS-CoV (SARS, not COVID-19), but they were unsuccessful in every case except one with a pig.19,20 Information is emerging regarding susceptibility to, and COVID-19 transmission to and from livestock. Chickens, ducks, and pigs are not susceptible to COVID-19; however, ferrets are.18 Another study searched for COVID-19 antibodies in 1914 serum samples from thirty-five animal species (including many livestock animals) and did not find evidence of the virus.21 However, with this type of testing, it is possible that animals were infected but not long enough for the antibodies to build up and be detectable. According to the information currently available, it appears that the spread of COVID-19 virus between people and most livestock animals is low. Livestock handlers who suspect they have COVID-19 should take the precautions recommended by the CDC to isolate themselves from others and their animals (especially cats).

There may be concern for livestock water sources. Unlike human drinking water, livestock water is kept in open troughs or artificial ponds, which are more exposed to the environment. If the COVID-19 virus were introduced to the wildlife in North America, wildlife interacting with these water sources might contaminate them. While this possibility seems feasible, there is no current evidence that the COVID-19 virus can infiltrate North American wildlife, nor would infected wildlife serve as vectors to humans.19 See the second paragraph under the Surface Waters section above for a more detailed discussion.

Preparation and Consumption of Meat or Other Livestock Products

The FDA does not consider COVID-19 to be a foodborne illness; that is, the virus cannot “be active” or multiply in food. However, the disease may be spread via food and packaging that is improperly handled by a contagious individual (who may or may not be symptomatic). Additionally, infection with the COVID-19 virus cannot occur by consuming the meat of an infected animal as long as the meat is thoroughly cooked. Hygienic processing and sufficient cooking temperature and time will inactivate the COVID-19 virus.22

Acknowledgment

The authors would like to thank Cady S. Kurz for her careful review of this publication.

References Cited

  1. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-1). COVIDView. A Weekly Surveillance Summary of US COVID-19 Activity. Key updates for week 17 ending April 25, 2020. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2020 [accessed 2020 May 04]. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/covidview/.
  2. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-1). Situation Summary. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2020 [accessed 2020 Mar 31]. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/summary.html.
  3. Cascella M, Rajnik M, Cuomo A, Dulebohn SC, Di Napoli R. Features, evaluation and treatment coronavirus (COVID-19). Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls [Internet]; 2020 Jan [accessed 2020 Mar 31]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554776/.
  4. Murdoch DR, French NP. COVID-19: Another infectious disease emerging at the animal-human interface. The New Zealand Medical Journal. 2020 Feb 21;133(1510):12.
  5. Ledbetter K. Coronaviruses commonly seen in domestic livestock. College Station (TX): Texas A&M University, Texas A&M Today; 2020 Mar 3 [accessed 2020 Mar 31]. https://today.tamu.edu/2020/03/03/coronaviruses-commonly-seen-in-domestic-livestock/.
  6. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-1). Water and COVID-19 faqs: information about drinking water, treated recreational water, and wastewater. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2020 [accessed 2020 Mar 23]. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/water.html.
  7. Tomsai D. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). A socioepidemiological review – 1. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. LV(I):2020.
  8. Wang X, Li J, Jin M, Zhen B, Kong Q, Song N, Xiao W, Yin J, Wei W, Wang G, et al. Study on the resistance of severe acute respiratory syndrome-associated coronavirus. Journal of Virological Methods 2005;126(1):171–177.
  9. Gilbert RG, Rice RC, Bouwer H, Gerba CP, Wallis C, Melnick JL. Wastewater renovation and reuse: virus removal by soil filtration. Science 1976 Jun 4;192(4243):1004–1005.
  10. Beer KD, Gargano JW, Roberts VA, Hill VR, Garrison LE, Kutty PK, Hilborn ED, Wade TJ, Fullerton KE, Yoder JS. Surveillance for waterborne disease outbreaks associated with drinking water – United States, 2011-2012. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). 2015 Aug 14;64(31):842–8.
  11. Chen Y, Chen L, Deng Q, Zhang G, Wu K, Ni L, Yang Y, Liu B, Wang W, Wei C, Yang J, Ye G, Cheng Z. 2020. The presence of SARS‐CoV‐2 RNA in the feces of COVID‐19 patients. J Med Virol. 1–8. [accessed 2020 May 4]. doi:10.1002/jmv.25825.
  12. Wang W, Xu Y, Gao R, Lu R, Han K, Wu G, Tan W. Detection of SARS-CoV-2 in different types of clinical specimens. JAMA. 2020 March 11 [accessed 2020 May 4]. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.3786.
  13. Coronavirus and Drinking Water and Wastewater. Washington (DC): 2020 [accessed 2020 May 4]. https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus/coronavirus-and-drinking-water-and-wastewater.
  14. Cavanagh D. Coronaviruses in poultry and other birds. Avian pathology. 2005 Dec 1;34(6):439–448. doi: doi:10.1080/03079450500367682.
  15. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-1). Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Summary. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020 [accessed 2020 May 4]. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/summary.html.
  16. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. USDA statement on the confirmation of COVID-19 in a tiger in New York. Washington (DC): US Department of Agriculture: 2020 Apr 6 [accessed 2020 Apr 12]. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/newsroom/news/sa_by_date/sa-2020/ny-zoo-covid-19.
  17. SARS-CoV2 in animals. Schaumburg (IL): American Veterinary Medical Association; 2020. [accessed 2020 May 4]. https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/animal-health-and-welfare/covid-19/sars-cov-2-animals-including-pets.
  18. Shi J, Wen Z, Zhong G, Yang H, Wang C, Huang B, Liu R, He X, Shuai L, Sun Z, Zhao Y, Liu P, Liang L, Cui P, Wang J, Zhang X, Guan Y, Tan W, Wu G, Chen H, Bu Z. Susceptibility of ferrets, cats, dogs, and other domesticated animals to SARS–coronavirus 2. Science. 2020 April 8. [accessed 2020 May 4]. doi: doi:10.1126/science.abb7015.
  19. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-1). COVID-19 and Animals. Risk of Animals Spreading COVID-19 to people. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2020 [accessed 2020 Apr 12]. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/animals.html.
  20. Chen W, Yan M, Yang L, Ding B, He B, Wang Y, Liu X, Liu C, Zhu H, You B, et al. SARS-associated coronavirus transmitted from human to pig. Emerging Infectious Diseases 2005 Mar;11(3):446–8.
  21. Deng J, Jin Y, Liu Y, Sun J, Hao L, Bai J, Huang T, Lin D, Jin Y, Tian K. 2020. Serological survey of SARS-CoV-2 for experimental, domestic, companion and wild animals excludes intermediate hosts of 35 different species of animals. Transbound Emerging Diseases. 2020 Apr 17 [Epub ahead of print] [accessed 2020 May 4]. doi:10.1111/tbed.13577.
  22. Food Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Silver Spring (MD): US Food and Drug Administration; 2020 Mar 27 [accessed 2020 Mar 31]. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-during-emergencies/food-safety-and-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19.

NOTE: Due to the time-sensitive nature of this information, this version of the publication was not put through the formal Land-Grant Press peer-review process.

Publication Number

NEWSLETTER

Categories

Looking for homeowner based information?

Share This