Dangerous viruses can remain infectious for up to three days in fresh water by hitchhiking on plastic, researchers have found.
Enteric viruses that cause diarrhoea and stomach upsets, such as rotavirus, were found to survive in water by attaching to microplastics, tiny particles less than 5mm long. They remain infectious, University of Stirling researchers found, posing a potential health risk.
Prof Richard Quilliam, lead researcher on the project at Stirling University, said: “We found that viruses can attach to microplastics and that allows them to survive in the water for three days, possibly longer.”
While previous research had been carried out in sterile settings, this is the first research into how viruses behave in the environment, Quilliam said. However, he used standard laboratory methods to determine whether viruses found on microplastics in water were infectious.
“We weren’t sure how well viruses could survive by ‘hitchhiking’ on plastic in the environment, but they do survive and they do remain infectious,” he said.
The findings, part of a £1.85m project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council looking at how plastics transport bacteria and viruses, concluded that microplastics enabled pathogen transfer in the environment. The paper is published in the journal Environmental Pollution. [Continue reading…]