Faulty Plumbing Likely Culprit of SARS Spread in Hong Kong

Inadequate plumbing likely contributed to the recent spread of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in residential buildings in Hong Kong, according to a team of international experts led by the United Nations health agency.

Fecal droplets originating from virus-rich excreta in a given building’s drainage system re-entered into resident apartments via sewage and drainage systems where there were strong upward air flows, inadequate "traps" and non-functional water seals, according to the experts who met in Rome at the World Health Organization (WHO) Center for Environment and Health.

"While the evidence suggests that, under most circumstances, the spread of SARS among people occurred overwhelmingly across a short range of distance through water droplets, there are specific situations where conditions allowed other transmission routes," said Jamie Bartram, head of WHO’s Water, Sanitation and Health Program.

The experts warned that in the absence of proper maintenance and without consistent monitoring, review, enforcement and updating of building standards and practices, inadequate plumbing and sewage systems could continue to enhance the potential of SARS and some other diseases to spread.

They experts developed a checklist of environmental hygiene factors in building design and maintenance that, if followed, could contribute to controlling environmental transmission of the SARS coronavirus and other viruses.

They recommended that governments establish or strengthen intersectoral arrangements and mechanisms to enhance joint efforts of health ministries, building authorities, local governments and architects and designers to both raise general awareness of the risks from inadequate plumbing and sewage systems, and to take concrete actions to address shortcomings in this area.

UN News Service

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