Bloomberg’s Jason Gale has reported The discovery of coronavirus in the bathroom of an unoccupied apartment in Guangzhou, China, suggests the airborne pathogen may have wafted upwards through drain pipes, an echo of a large SARS outbreak in Hong Kong 17 years ago.
The discovery of coronavirus in the bathroom of an unoccupied apartment in Guangzhou, China, suggests the airborne pathogen may have wafted upwards through drain pipes, an echo of a large SARS outbreak in Hong Kong 17 years ago.
Traces of SARS-CoV-2 were detected in February on the sink, faucet and shower handle of a long-vacant apartment, researchers at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said in a study published this month in Environment International. The contaminated bathroom was directly above the home of five people confirmed a week earlier to have Covid-19.
The scientists conducted “an on-site tracer simulation experiment” to see whether the virus could be spread through waste pipes via tiny airborne particles that can be created by the force of a toilet flush. They found such particles, called aerosols, in bathrooms 10 and 12 levels above the Covid-19 cases. Two cases were confirmed on each of those floors in early February, raising concern that SARS-CoV-2-laden particles from stool had drifted into their homes via plumbing.
The new report is reminiscent of a case at Hong Kong’s Amoy Gardens private housing estate almost two decades ago, when 329 residents caught severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in part because of faulty sewage pipelines. Forty-two residents died, making it the most devastating community outbreak of SARS, which is also caused by a coronavirus.
“Although transmission via the shared elevator cannot be excluded, this event is consistent with the findings of the Amoy Gardens SARS outbreak in Hong Kong in 2003,” Song Tang, a scientist with the China CDC Key Laboratory of Environment and Population Health, and colleagues wrote in the study, which cited unpublished data from China CDC.
Apartments in multistory buildings may be linked via a shared wastewater system, said Lidia Morawska, director of the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health at Australia’s Queensland University of Technology. While solids and liquids descend the network, sewer gases — often detectable by their odor — sometimes rise through pipes, said Morawska, who wasn’t part of the research team.
“If there’s smell, it means that somehow air has been transported to where it shouldn’t go,” Morawska said in an interview.