Viruses that are dangerous to humans can stay active longer in fresh water by attaching to microplastic particles. This was proved by scientists from the University of Sterling. Research was published in the journal Environmental Pollution.
Intestinal viruses (e.g., rotavirus), which cause diarrhea and upset stomach, have been found to survive in water on microplastic particles less than 5 mm long. They remain contagious, posing a potential health risk.
“We found that viruses can attach to microplastics and that allows them to survive in the water for three days, possibly longer… That’s enough to get from sewage treatment plants to a public beach,” says the project’s lead researcher.
According to him, sewage treatment plants cannot catch microplastics. Its particles are so tiny that swimmers can accidentally swallow them. Sometimes they are washed on the beach in the form of bright granules, where they can be picked up and put in the children’s mouths. Even a small number of viral particles on them can cause disease.
“Viruses can also bind to natural surfaces in the environment. However, plastic pollution lasts a lot longer than those materials, “said the scientist.
The study found that lipid-free viruses, such as rotavirus and norovirus, survived microplastics. Lipid-enveloped viruses (such as influenza) die rapidly when their shell is dissolved in water. Scientists have studied the viruses for three days, but plan to try longer in the future.