SARS and Plumbing: The Role Sewage Plays in Spreading Disease


CINCINNATI -- Recent reports by the World Health Organization (WHO) have shed new light on the role sewage plays in spreading the deadly disease known as severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. The issue emerged following a SARS outbreak at the Amoy Garden apartment complex in Hong Kong last month. While the United States has not experienced a SARS outbreak like the one in China, Americans can benefit from the information Hong Kong investigators have uncovered to prevent severe and common diseases from spreading in their homes through plumbing.

According to WHO, ineffective U-trap seals in the drainpipes of Amoy Garden apartments triggered the SARS outbreak. These traps, often called P-traps in the U.S., are designed to hold water at all times. The water acts as a barrier and prevents insects, foul smells and, in this case, viruses and bacteria from backing up through the drains.

"Every U.S. plumbing fixture -- a toilet, sink, bathtub or floor drain -- uses a P-trap in its drainpipe. When the P-trap failed in the Amoy Garden apartment complex in Hong Kong, the plumbing system, in effect, acted as a transportation system for the virus to spread quickly through the building," said Larry Rothman, master plumber with Roto-Rooter Services Company.

Roto-Rooter, a leading expert on plumbing issues, reports that the plumbing systems in American homes and apartment buildings use P-traps similar to those in Hong Kong. While U.S. health department officials have taken aggressive steps to prevent a SARS outbreak here, the situation in Hong Kong illuminates the combination of plumbing and disease. To educate Americans about the role plumbing plays in the spread of disease, Roto-Rooter has prepared a list of tips for keeping drains and P-traps clean.

Plumbing Tips for Preventing the Spread of Disease:

-- Push water through floor drains in bathrooms, basements, garages and

other areas at least once a month to keep the P-traps filled with water

and to prevent insects, air or anything else from passing through


-- Run a gallon of water through bathroom drains about once a month, since

mopping floors clean - the usual technique in the U.S., as in China -

does not allow enough water to fill the P-trap causing it to dry out.

-- Run a gallon of water at least once a month through lesser-used drains

to keep P-trap seals from drying out.

-- Pour up to a cup of chlorine bleach or other common disinfectants down

a drain to kill germs since WHO has determined that they kill most

bacteria and viruses, including SARS, within five minutes. But be sure

to later flush the drain with water.

-- Odors that arise from household drains indicate the P-traps are dry and

need to be filled with water.

-- Visit the WHO Web site at to see test results showing how

the SARS virus can live for days in human waste.

Source: Roto-Rooter

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