Can one get infected with the coronavirus through tap water?

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Updated on: 11/13/2020

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First of all: A corona infection through drinking water from the pipe seems unlikely according to the current state of knowledge!

The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed our everyday life. The danger of this virus is mainly caused by a high risk of infection. As many research questions remain unanswered, there is great uncertainty. One of the main transmission routes for the virus was previously considered to be contamination by droplets during interpersonal contact or through contaminated surfaces.

But is there also the possibility of an infection through the tap water? After all, we know from other diseases that germs can be transmitted, especially through the spray mist in swimming pool slides or showers.

A drinking woman in the kitchen

But is there also the possibility of an infection through the tap water? After all, we know from other diseases that germs can be transmitted, especially through the spray mist in swimming pool slides or showers.

High safety standards in drinking water to protect against germs

The German Drinking Water Ordinance, which was last renewed in December 2019 (21st amendment), prescribes a strict disinfection procedure for tap water. It also regulates which treatment materials may be used. In a statement of the Federal Environment Agency of 13 March 2020, "a transmission of the coronavirus via the public drinking water supply is highly improbable according to current knowledge".1.

Concerns about corona viruses in wastewater

Nevertheless, newspaper reports are unsettling: In the Netherlands, researchers found coronavirus in the sewage of the city of Nieuwegein on March 5, 2020.

It had reached there through excretions of infected people. The Berlin Tagesspiegel reported that wastewater from hospitals was flowing unhindered into the sewage system.

However, the Berlin waterworks assured in a statement that it was impossible for viruses to get into the tap water. For one thing, they said, the water for the drinking water supply is taken from groundwater at great depths in an oxygen-free zone where viruses and bacteria cannot survive. In addition, viruses in waste water are "99 to 99.9 % degraded in the biological purification stage of the sewage treatment plant".2. In the case of the Dutch city, however, researchers even see an opportunity for an early warning system.

A doctor washes his hands under the tap

However, the Berlin waterworks assured in a statement that it was impossible for viruses to enter the tap water. On the one hand, the water for the drinking water pipeline is taken from groundwater at great depth in an oxygen-free zone where viruses and bacteria cannot survive.

In addition, viruses in the wastewater are "99 to 99.9% broken down in the biological treatment stage of the sewage treatment plant"2 , but in the case of the Dutch city, researchers even see a chance for an early warning system.

Is there a residual risk and use water filters?

Despite strict regulations and elaborate measures taken by the water companies, germs in the water can never be ruled out one hundred percent, which is proven by local incidents where water has to be boiled or infections caused by legionella.

The main causes are often outdated pipes and stagnant water. Drinking water filters can also considerably reduce the risk here. Above all, however, they improve the water quality with regard to the filtering of treatment substances such as chlorine, which were used to disinfect the tap water.  

Conclusion: What is really important

An infection with the corona virus in drinking water is very unlikely. Nevertheless, there is a weak point at the tap.

The most important protective measure against infection is regular hand washing with soap. However, it is important that the tap and fittings are not contaminated before washing hands.

As a rule, one touches the tap first before washing and also afterwards. This should only be done with a disposable cloth, which should then be disposed of safely. In addition, taps and sinks in the kitchen and bathroom should be disinfected regularly.

References

  • Federal Environment Agency: https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/themen/coronavirus-uebertragung-ueber-das-trinkwasser
  • RBB24: https://www.rbb24.de/panorama/thema/2020/coronavirus/beitraege_neu/2020/04/abwasser-haushalt-klinik-umwelt-berlin-abgeordnetenhaus-anfrage.html