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The 'Shocking' New Way COVID Travels Through Your Toilet

The virus apparently spread between two apartments through the plumbing.

Coronavirus may be able to spread through buildings via toilets and plumbing pipes, researchers say.

According to a report published in the journal Environmental International, coronavirus was found on sinks, faucets and shower handles of a 16th floor apartment that was situated directly above a residence where five people had been sick with COVID-19.

The researchers performed a simulation to see if plumbing could spread the virus, and although they couldn't rule out transmission via the building's elevator, they found that toilets may in fact have been responsible.

"The possibility of aerosol transport through sewage pipe after flushing the toilet at the 15th-floor restroom was confirmed by an onsite tracer simulation experiment showing that aerosols were found in the restroom of apartments on the 25th floor and 27th floor," the researchers wrote.

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Virus shockingly present in feces, urine

Researchers have long known that coronavirus was present in feces. Recently, they have found that it may be present in urine and potentially spread via the flushing of urinals, which can theoretically disperse viral particles that can be inhaled, causing infection.

Scientists maintain that coronavirus is primarily spread through person-to-person transmission, but it's unclear how often it happens via droplets (the larger particles produced when we cough or sneeze, which tend to drop to the ground fairly quickly) versus aerosols (smaller particles that can linger in the air). The latter group also includes particles potentially spread by flushed toilets. Originally, it was believed that coronavirus was primarily Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, says it's likely that the coronavirus is aerosolized, and scientists are trying to calculate how often that causes infection.

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The Environmental International researchers said that previous studies on respiratory aerosols found they can travel "considerable distances" and can take up to nine minutes to drop to the ground. They pointed out that in 2003, over 300 residents of the Hong Kong apartment building Amoy Gardens were infected by the respiratory coronavirus SARS, believed to be carried through plumbing. 

Advice: Put the lid down

"Restrooms, owing to the shedding of SARS-CoV-2 in fecal material and aerosolization during toilet flushing, should be thoroughly cleaned regularly (e.g. ventilation and sterilization)," the researchers wrote. "If the toilet seat is equipped with a lid, it is recommended to close the lid before flushing the toilet, especially in hospitals."

As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19: Wear a face mask regularly, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid large gatherings, practice social distancing, wash your hands regularly, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 37 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael