GUANGZHOU, China — A study published this month suggests that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could be spread through plumbing at apartment complexes.

What You Need To Know

  • Scientists in China report finding the coronavirus in the bathroom of a vacant apartment

  • Five people with COVID-19 lived directly beneath the home

  • The researchers believe plumbing can play a role in the spread of the virus

  • The incident is reminiscent of a SARS outbreak at a Hong Kong complex in 2003

The virus was discovered in the bathroom of a long-vacant apartment in February in Guangzhou, China, researchers at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention wrote in the study published in the journal Environment International, Bloomberg reported. The incident is reminiscent of a SARS outbreak at Hong Kong’s Amoy Gardens private housing complex in 2003 in which 329 residents were infected and 42 died, in part due to faulty sewage pipelines.

SARS is also caused by a coronavirus.

In Guangzhou, traces of the novel coronavirus were found on the sink, faucet and shower in the unoccupied apartment, which was directly above the home of five people who had been infected with COVID-19. The discovery suggest the airborne pathogen might have traveled upward through drainpipes.

The scientists then conducted “an on-site tracer simulation experiment” and confirmed that the virus could spread to bathrooms 10 and 12 stories above through pipes via tiny airborne particles that can be created by the force of a toilet flush. Scientists in China have previously said the coronavirus in stool can play a role in transmission.

“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,” the researchers wrote in the study. 

Malik Peiris, chair of virology at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, noted, according to Bloomberg, that traces of the virus are “not the same thing as infectious virus. But one has to keep the possibility in mind.”