Ebola virus and drinking water member update

October 27, 2014

Ebola has been much in the news of late, amid fears of its gaining a toehold on other continents. Dr Martha Sinclair pulled together information about the virus and the way it spreads, to help us understand the risk it poses in relation to water.

The Ebola virus fact sheet can be downloaded here.

Further to the brochure, we have permission to share the following information that was sent to all Victorian utilities this week.

The Victorian Department of Health has developed the Victorian Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) Response Plan and Victoria is in a strong position to be able to respond to an  Ebola case should this occur in Victoria.  

The key messages that relate to the water industry are:

  • There have been no confirmed cases of Ebola in Australia
  • Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with blood or bodily fluids of an infected person or animal, and is not transmitted through air, water or sewage
  • In the event that someone is found to be infected with the Ebola virus that person will be looked after in accordance with the EVD Response Plan in a way that controls any risk of transmission of the virus to clinical staff and the public
  • The current scientific evidence does not quantify the survivability time outside of the host apart from that Ebola virus does not remain viable outside an infected person.
  • As information continues to become available the Department will inform the water industry of any changes to advice.  

Drinking Water

The messages contained in the WaterRA factsheet for drinking water are supported by the Department of Health and that there is no risk of Ebola transmission or infection from drinking water supplies.

Sewage exposure, sewage treatment and sewerage system workers

There is no evidence that Ebola can be spread by water or sewage. As a precaution however, steps are in place to disinfect patient waste as an extra protection at the treating hospital.

The water industry is familiar with working in sewage environments and, as with the normal sewage risks, prevention of contact with sewage is the most effective method of controlling risk of infection.

Guidance is currently being prepared by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the US that specifically addresses risks to sewage works and exposure to sewage containing Ebola patient wastes. This is expected to be released by the end of October. Once released the Department will inform the water industry.

Recycled water use

Recycled water used by the community and industry includes treatment and disinfection processes which are effective against a variety of human and environmental pathogens, including Ebola.  There is no risk of Ebola transmission in these water supplies.  

In the mean time, the following messages are relevant to the public :

  • There have been no confirmed Ebola cases in Australia
  • Whilst concern from the community and staff is justified and appropriate, Government is working with all agencies to provide the best available advice for their protection.
  • Any enquiries about EVD should be directed to the Department of Health's Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Unit on 1300 651 160.
  • Further information about EVD can be found on the following Department of Health webpage  -  http://www.health.vic.gov.au/emergency/ebola.htm

A recent blog by Professor Jeffrey Levi from the US may also be of interest readers.
The title and link are here Lessons from Ebola: The infectious disease era, and the need to prepare, will never be over