How long can a virus live in water?

By Rebecca Israel, MS & Charles Li, MD

May 11, 2020

  • Viruses can survive in tap water over long periods of time.

  • Unfiltered water in the refrigerator can preserve viruses for weeks if not months.

  • Fortunately, there's no evidence that you can get coronavirus through sharing water.

Viruses and Water

Survivability, Temperature, and Filtration

The rapid spread of COVID-19 has urged scientists to discover all the ways in which the virus be transmitted. The hope is that understanding its transmission will enable us to limit its spread.

Viruses can be transmitted through air, human contact, and food. COVID-19 is mainly spread through person-to-person contact. Respiratory droplets spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These droplets can go onto the floor, food, grocery bags, and clothes.

Scientists have researched how long virus droplets can live on each of these surfaces. They have also examined how well a virus can live in water and for how long.

Source: Water, sanitation, hygiene and waste management for COVID-19

Study Design

Scientists wanted to test how long viruses could live in a variety of water samples. Water samples were collected from laboratory faucets. Some samples were filtered and some were left unfiltered. The samples were also split between room temperature (23 degrees) and cold temperature (4 degrees).

They grew viruses in cells and mixed viruses with tap water. They measured how many days it took for the viruses to be significantly reduced in the combined samples.

Virus Survival in Water Study Setup

1.Grow Viruses

First, researchers grew viruses in cells, then extracted and purified the viruses.

2.Add to Water

Researchers collected tap water and mixed in the viruses that they grew.

3. Measure Viral Load

Researchers measured the amount of viruses in the water at days 1, 3, 6, 10, 15, and 21.

Viruses and water temperature

At room temperature, it required only 10 days for coronavirus to almost completely inactivate in filtered water. In cold water, coronavirus could last over a hundred days.

Viruses vs. Water Temperature

Temperature & Viral Survival

Room Temperature - 10 Days

10d

40 Degrees - 200+ Days

200+

Coronavirus took 7 days to reach a 99.9% reduction in viral load in water at room temperature, and 200+ days to reach this at 40 degrees.

Virus in Filtered Water

All viruses survived longer in previously filtered water, compared to unfiltered tap water.

Viruses vs. Water Filtration

Viral Survival in Filtered Water

Filtered Water - 12 Days

12days

Unfiltered Tap - 10 Days

10days

Viruses are less likely to survive in filtered water compared to unfiltered tap water. The data measures the number of days it will take to reach a 99.9% reduction in viral load under each condition.

Coronavirus vs Poliovirus

Coronavirus vs Poliovirus in Water

Polioviruses survived much longer than coronavirus in water, with traces living upwards of 71 days at room temperature. Polioviruses survived six times longer than coronavirus at room temperature.

These findings tell us that coronaviruses are much more likely to be inactivated by water than other viruses. It tells us that coronaviruses are more sensitive to water temperature as well.

What does the CDC say?

The CDC doesn’t want us to worry about COVID-19 in our water. Standard treatment methods used by our water systems should remove and inactive the virus.

There is no evidence that COVID-19 lives in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas. Again, proper water-related maintenance should eliminate any viruses.

Source: CDC

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