Scientists at Cornell University have discovered that bird flu viruses probably would not survive sewerage and drinking water treatment systems. Therefore, it is doubtful that contaminated feces could infect plant workers and spread through tap water.
Bloomberg.com reports that the researchers studied a low-pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza virus, which resembles the lethal H5N1 strain circulating in Asia and Africa. Araceli Lucio-Forster, a microbiologist at Cornell, reported that water treatments, including chlorination, ultraviolet radiation and bacterial digesters killed the microbes.
This discovery might aid in reducing concerns regarding whether or not drinking water would be a mode of infection during a pandemic. World health officials say the H5N1 flu virus, which has killed 157 people since 2003, has the potential to mutate and create a global outbreak.
In order to test the effectiveness of UV radiation for killing the H5N2 virus, the scientists exposed the virus in drinking water as well as in wastewater effluents to UV light at varying levels. The treatment was effective in killing H5N2 at levels well within industry standards and at lower levels than those used for killing bacteria such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia.
For chlorine, which is mainly what is used in U.S. drinking water, the results were less definitive from tests undertaken at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York.
Bloomberg.com reported that further studies were necessary to see if the viruses stay active when they come out of feces or are at different acid and salinity levels.