As scientists continue to figure out how the coronavirus is spread, they’ve come across a troubling discovery: In multiple cases, the virus seems to have been passed through the toilets from one apartment to another. If this is actually the case, apartment dwellers need to take extra precautions to lower their risk.

What’s the evidence?

Scientists have already known that Coronavirus could be spread through flushing toilets with infected feces. But, recent studies suggest that aerosols may travel through the pipes and contaminate other bathrooms in the building as well.

In China, a family of five tested positive for COVID-19.  Although the apartment directly below them was empty, traces of the virus were found on the sink, faucet, and shower handle. Researchers at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention believe that these findings indicate that the virus may have drifted down the pipes into the vacant apartment.

To confirm their hypotheses, the researchers used a tracer simulator throughout the building.  They found infected aerosols in bathrooms up to 12 floors above the family with COVID-19. This led the scientists to believe that aerosols from the infected family’s feces traveled through the pipes into the apartments above.

This isn’t the first time that a virus has been shown to travel through an apartment building. During the 2003 SARS outbreak, 329 residents of Amoy Gardens apartment complex in Hong Kong all contracted SARS. Researchers believe the building’s faulty sewage pipes may have sent a “virus-laden aerosol plume” through the system.

What does this mean for coronavirus prevention in apartment buildings?

The new findings are troubling for apartment dwellers with shared wastewater systems. Lidia Morawska, director of the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health at Australia’s Queensland University of Technology is concerned that, without sufficient water in the pipes, gases can rise up through apartments.

“If there’s smell, it means that somehow air has been transported to where it shouldn’t go,” she explained.

It’s important for those living in shared apartments to be extra vigilant about not allowing infected air through their homes.  Check with your landlord about the building’s HVAC system, open windows whenever possible, and consider purchasing a high-quality air purifier capable of eliminating viruses and other pollutants from your indoor air.