What are the risks of COVID-19 virus spreading in drinking water?


The concern of coronavirus spreading through drinking water is lately on the increase. It pays to be skeptical at times. After all, shouldn’t we do all within our reach to curb the spread of the deadly SARS-CoV-2 virus? That’s why we wear masks, sanitize our hands regularly, and maintain adequate social distance wherever we go. But then, can the water we fetch from our taps to drink be the loophole?

It is not anything new to hear entire communities falling ill due to drinking water contamination. Some of the most notorious waterborne diseases include typhoid fever, cholera, giardia, dysentery, Escherichia Coli, Hepatitis A, and salmonella. During the worst ever cholera outbreak in Yemen in 2017, Tamer Kirolos, Yemen’s Country Director for Save the Children, had enough reason to say: “There’s no doubt this is a man-made crisis. Cholera only rears its head when there’s a complete and total breakdown in sanitation.”

The same fears of drinking water being contaminated with coronavirus leave us worried, and that’s why we herein examine scientific facts related to the issue.

First and foremost, how does coronavirus spread?

By now, everyone understands that COVID-19 spreads when one person transfers respiratory droplets to another person. This is mainly through coughs, sneezes, or talking. The transmitter and recipient should ideally be close to each other. 

In other instances, the said respiratory droplets may linger in the air for some minutes after being released by the person infected with the virus. Other people inhaling the contaminated air may also get infected. We refer to this as airborne transmission.   

Infected persons may also leave the virus on surfaces they touch by contaminated hands. Another person touching the same surface and using the same hands to wipe the face or pick the nose may get infected. However, this transmission mode is not as common as the one-on-one transmission. 

Has COVID-19 been detected in water?

Up to now, not yet. Scientists claim that, although there is a possibility for the SARS-CoV-2 virus to survive in water for some time, they have not yet verified their presence in any water body – both ground and surface. 

Now, not all viruses are the same. Some have the viral envelope while others don’t. In simple terms, the viral envelope refers to the outermost covering that some viruses have. These are referred to as enveloped viruses. Those without are referred to as non-enveloped viruses.

The viruses that cause COVID-19 are non-enveloped. As such, their survival outside the host environment is limited. Additionally, they can easily be sterilized and oxidated. 

Virtually all municipalities apply chlorine to water as a disinfectant. Therefore, any COVID-19 virus coming into contact with chlorine-treated water is denatured and made inactive. Residual chlorine in water helps keep the water safe from re-infection during distribution to homes. 

Also, COVID-19 viruses are readily killed in conditions of high heat, low or high pH, and bright sunlight.  

What about water contaminated with feces?

It has so far been proved that coronavirus exists in human feces. Therefore, if drinking water happens to be contaminated with raw sewage, there is a great likelihood of infections on persons drinking that water. As a matter of fact, the virus can remain alive and infectious for a few weeks. 

For that reason, it is wise to stay safe, for you never know whether your tap water is 100 percent safe. Some drinking water distribution networks have leaks in several places, and these may act as points of entry for contaminants. Therefore, consider filtering your tap water before drinking.

The two types of water filter appropriate for such disinfection are:

  • Reverse Osmosis filters – these have a semi-permeable membrane of very small pore size that traps virtually all water contaminants, including viruses
  • Ultraviolet water filters – These comprise a lamp that shines UV light on water, thus killing disease-causing viruses and bacteria

 Another option is to boil water for about three minutes. The SARS-CoV-2 virus can not survive in such high temperatures. 

To sum it up

It is wise to protect yourself from coronavirus in all ways possible. Aside from the usual measures of wearing masks, sanitizing, and social distancing, try thinking outside the box. 

Sanitation is one way to keep yourself free from many diseases. So ensure you maintain cleanliness standards as high as possible. Ensure there is no possibility of toilet waste ever coming into contact with drinking water. Remember it takes only a small drop to transfer the virus into your body.