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Coronavirus traces found in bathroom of vacant apartment in China; researchers look for answers

The discovery of the virus in the contaminated washroom suggests the airborne microbe may have wafted upwards across drain pipes, which echoes of a large SARS outbreak in Hong Kong 17 years ago

The scientists discovered particles, called aerosols, in bathrooms 10 and 12 levels above the flats where the COVID-19 cases were located. (Representative image) The scientists discovered particles, called aerosols, in bathrooms 10 and 12 levels above the flats where the COVID-19 cases were located. (Representative image)

Scientists at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said in a recent study that traces of coronavirus were detected in the bathroom of a vacant flat in Guangzhou, China in February.

The researchers stated in the report that the vestiges of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 were found on the sink, shower handle, and faucet of the unoccupied apartment and the infected bathroom was directly above the flat of five people who tested positive for coronavirus a week earlier. The report was published in the Environment International journal earlier this month, Bloomberg reported.

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The discovery of the virus in the contaminated washroom suggests the airborne microbe may have wafted upwards across drain pipes, which echoes of a large SARS outbreak in Hong Kong 17 years ago.

The researchers carried out "an on-site tracer simulation experiment" to check if the virus could permeate the waste pipes through tiny airborne particles that can be generated by the force of a toilet flush. The scientists discovered particles, called aerosols, in bathrooms 10 and 12 levels above the flats where the COVID-19 cases were located.

Two coronavirus cases were detected on each of those floors in early February, heightening concerns that SARS-CoV-2-laden particles from stool had roved into their flats via plumbing.

The new study is reminiscent of a case at Hong Kong's Amoy Gardens private housing estate around 20 years ago, when 329 residents developed severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in part because of faulty sewage pipelines.

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42 people had died, making it the most catastrophic community outbreak of SARS, which is also caused by a coronavirus.

Song Tang, a researcher with the China CDC Key Laboratory of Environment and Population Health, along with other scientists wrote in the study, which cited unpublished data from the health agency, that "although transmission via the shared elevator cannot be excluded, this event is consistent with the findings of the Amoy Gardens SARS outbreak in Hong Kong in 2003."