Flu pandemic response could harm water quality

An international research team has found that existing plans for antiviral and antibiotic use during a severe influenza pandemic could reduce wastewater treatment efficiency.

This would result in the water quality deteriorating at drinking water abstraction points, according to D&WR‘s sister website, Web4Water. 

The research by a team including the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and University of Sheffield (UK), Institute for Scientific Interchange, (Italy), Utrecht University (Netherlands) and Indiana University (USA), was published on 2 March 2011 in the journal Health Perspectives. 

The team investigated the potential impact of the medical response to an influenza pandemic on wastewater treatment plants and rivers.

They concluded that a mild pandemic would have negligible ecotoxicologic hazards but a moderate to severe outbreak would cause the potential contamination at drinking water abstraction points. CEH lead author, Dr Andrew Singer, said: “Our results suggest that existing plans for drug use during an influenza pandemic could result in discharge of inefficiently treated wastewater into the UK’s rivers. 

“The potential widespread release of antivirals and antibiotics into the environment may hasten the development of resistant pathogens with implications for human health during and potentially well after the formal end of the pandemic.” 

The CEH said while more research needed to be done, the production and successful distribution of pre-pandemic and pandemic influenza vaccines could help to alleviate all of the identified environmental and human health problems in the research.