Deadly Ebola Virus May Survive in Wastewater: New Sterilization Treatments Needed

First Posted: Aug 25, 2015 01:16 PM EDT

It turns out that the Ebola virus may actually be able to survive in wastewater. Researchers have taken a closer look at Ebola-contaminated liquid waste and found that it could continue to survive over time.

The historic outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa began in March 2014 and has killed more than 11,000 people since then. This virus, in particular, has raised new questions about its resilience and has tested scientists' understanding of how to contain it.

"Initial research by the WHO and CDC recommended disposing of Ebola-contaminated liquid waste into a latrine or treatment system without disinfection because the virus wasn't expected to persist in wastewater," said Kyle J. Bibby, one of the researchers, in a news release. "However, we found that the virus persisted over a period of at least eight days."

The researchers observed the change in viral particle concentration in two samples, spiked with different concentrations of the virus, over an eight-day period. The scientists saw a 99 percent decrease in concentration after the first day. However, the remaining viral particles were detectable for the duration of the experiment.

"These results demonstrate a greater persistence of Ebola virus in wastewater than previously speculated," said Charles Haas, co-author of the new study. "While the Ebola virus was found to be generally less persistent than enteric viruses in wastewater, the identified survival period might suggest a potential of a wastewater exposure route."

The findings reveal that when it comes to disposing of Ebola virus-contaminated material, it's important to take special precautions. A proposed option would be to hold the contaminated waste for a longer period of time before releasing it into the sewage system, or pretreating it with an antiviral agent, such as chlorine.

The findings are published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

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