ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: December 10, 2014

Questions remain about Ebola’s survival in the environment

"Ebola Virus Persistence in the Environment: State of the Knowledge and Research Needs"
Environmental Science & Technology Letters

The Ebola virus travels from person to person through direct contact with infected body fluids. But how long can the virus survive on glass surfaces or countertops? Or in wastewater, for example, when liquid wastes from a patient end up in the sewage system. In the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, scientists review the latest research to find answers to these questions.

Kyle Bibby and colleagues explain that knowing how long the deadly pathogen survives on surfaces, in water or in liquid droplets is critical to developing effective disinfection practices to prevent the spread of the disease. Currently, the World Health Organization guidelines recommend that liquid wastes from patients be flushed down the toilet or disposed of in a latrine. However, patients’ solid waste and liquid waste from Ebola research labs are supposed to be disinfected before entering the sewage system. Bibby’s team set out to determine what research can and can’t tell us about these practices.

The researchers scoured scientific papers for data on how long the virus can live in the environment. They found a dearth of published studies on the matter. That means no one knows for sure whether the virus can go airborne from a surface and cause infection, or how long it remains active in water, wastewater or sludge, say the researchers. The team concluded that Ebola’s persistence outside the body needs more careful investigation.

The authors acknowledge funding from the National Science Foundation Ebola RAPID program.

Scientists say we know little about the Ebola virus’ persistence in the environment.
Credit:CDC/Frederick Murphy