Ebola Information Released for Water and Wastewater Utilities

Can Ebola survive in wastewater? The Water Research Foundation releases a statement for water and wastewater utilities.

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Editor's Update: According to an Oct. 17 WEF press release, the CDC is preparing guidance for wastewater sector workers. The guidance, "Interim Guidance for Workers Handling Untreated Sewage from Ebola Cases in the United State," will address basic hygiene practices and personal protective equipment use and disposal actions that should be taken. The CDC states this review could be ready as early as late October. We will keep you updated as soon as we receive more information.

As a few American have contracted the Ebola virus, concern has spread. One question raised recently by a TPO reader from Michigan: Are wastewater operators at risk? This week, we've been searching for authoritative answers for our readers, and on Oct. 7, the Water Research Foundation released the following statement:

Some water utilities have begun receiving inquiries regarding Ebola. Below are a few facts and resources to reinforce that Ebola cannot spread through the water supply.

  • The Ebola virus causes an acute illness that is often fatal with a death rate of up to 90 percent. Ebola virus disease first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks, one in a remote area of Sudan and the other in a village near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, from which the disease takes its name. The current outbreak in West Africa (the first cases reported in March 2014) is the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the Ebola virus was first discovered. The current outbreak has spread through both urban and rural areas.
  • Ebola is not a foodborne, waterborne or airborne illness. The virus is transmitted to humans from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission. Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with infected bodily fluids (e.g., blood, vomit, feces). The Ebola virus can only replicate within host cells. Therefore, it cannot survive long in water because it does not have its host — either a human or an animal.
  • Because of Ebola’s fragility when separated from its host, bodily fluids flushed by an infected person would not contaminate the water supply. Researchers believe Ebola survives in water for only a matter of minutes. This is because water does not provide the same environment as our bodily fluids, which have higher salt concentrations. Once in water, the host cell will take in water in an attempt to equalize the osmotic pressure, causing the cells to swell and burst, thus killing the virus.

Cited Sources:

World Health Organization (WHO) Website 
World Health Organization (WHO) Website
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website 
CNN interview 
NPR interview

TPO magazine will continue to pass on information as we receive it. In the meantime, let us know your experiences so far. Has your treatment plant received any calls about Ebola? If so, what are you telling callers? Have your plant team members raised any questions or concerns? Have you discussed safety protocols? Do you, as an operator, have any concerns?

Let us know your experiences so far. Send an email to editor@tpomag.com or leave a comment here or on our Facebook or Twitter pages.


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