Genetic material from the novel coronavirus has been detected in sewage in the Netherlands. It is still uncertain whether the novel coronavirus in faeces or in sewage is infectious to humans. There is no evidence yet regarding infection of humans via sewage. In nearly half of all COVID-19 patients, the virus is found not only in the nose, but also in the faeces, and several patients were found to have the virus present in their urine. An infectious sample of the virus has been isolated from faeces in one study, but this has not been successful in other studies. It is not yet clear whether the virus particles found in the sewage could be infectious. It is also unknown how long the virus survives when it ends up in sewage water. RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment  Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu   National Institute for Public Health and the Environment    is researching this topic.

Most people do not come into contact with sewage. The advice is for everyone to follow the normal hygiene measures at all times. Wash your hands with soap and water after every visit to the toilet, and clean the toilet area regularly.

People who work with sewage should avoid direct contact with this water, and should avoid ingesting, swallowing and/or breathing in sewer water spray or mist. Sewer water always contains many different pathogens. Faecal matter excreted by sick people, but also by people who are not ill at all, always contains all sorts of pathogens that can make others sick if they are transmitted via hands, water or food. These pathogens are discharged into the sewer water via the toilet and sewage system. Established protective measures for people working with sewer water offer effective protection against the various types of pathogens in sewage, including coronaviruses. For that reason, people who work with sewer water must wear personal protective equipment appropriate to their work. All these protective measures for safe working practices involving wastewater are listed in the occupational health and safety catalogue of the water management authorities. If you have questions about the Health and Safety Catalogue, please contact your Health and Safety Coordinator. It is also important that employees at the sewage treatment plant follow the hygiene protocols:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water
  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow
  • Use paper tissues
  • Do not shake hands

RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment  research on the novel coronavirus in sewage

Sewage has always been full of many different pathogens. Faecal matter excreted by sick people, but also by people who are not ill at all, always contains all sorts of pathogens. These pathogens can make people sick if they are transmitted via hands, water or food. Many of these pathogens also end up in sewage via faeces. The sewer water goes to a sewage treatment plant. RIVM takes samples of sewage in the treatment plant and examines it for certain pathogens. This approach makes it possible to identify the presence of pathogens in order to detect viral infections in a population. By doing so, it is possible to determine where these pathogens occur in humans (in which municipalities and provinces). This research does not look at how infectious the pathogens are. By taking weekly measurement samples of sewage, it is possible to determine whether these pathogens were not previously present in the sewage. The opposite is also true: it is possible to find out if pathogens are still present. That makes it possible to determine if a pathogen is present but has gone unnoticed. RIVM is also conducting this form of monitoring for the novel coronavirus, based on the presence of genetic material. That enables us to find out how the virus outbreak is progressing. Taking samples from sewage throughout the Netherlands makes it possible to investigate the spread of the coronavirus. RIVM conducts such monitoring in conjunction with other measurements taken in sewage, as well as performing direct screening of humans for a more comprehensive overview of the spread of certain pathogens, such the novel coronavirus right now.

Results

First results of RIVM's research on COVID-19 in sewage in the Netherlands are expected by the end of May. We will publish them on this page.