Influenza pandemic could affect water quality

A new study recently concluded that deterioration in water quality at drinking water abstraction points could occur if existing plans for antiviral and antibiotic use during a severe influenza pandemic reduced wastewater treatment efficiency prior to discharge in receiving rivers.

The conclusions of the study were recently published in a new paper in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The study was designed to assess the ecotoxicologic risks of a response to pandemic influenza.

The paper was authored by a team from the Center for Ecology & Hydrology in the United Kingdom, the Institute for Interchange in Italy, the University of Sheffield in the U.K. and Indiana University.

The world health community closely watched the unfolding of the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic to best reduce its impact on society. Little thought was given, however, to how the epidemic impacted the environment.

To gauge the risk, the research team utilized a global spatially structured epidemic model that simulates the quantities of antivirals and antibiotics that would be used during outbreaks of varying severities with a water quality model that was tied to the Thames catchment in southern England.

From there they received their environmental concentrations and an additional model was used assess the exotoxicologic effects of antiviral and antibiotics in wastewater treatment facilities.

"Our results suggest that existing plans for drug use during an influenza pandemic could result in discharge of inefficiently treated wastewater into the U.K.'s rivers,” lead author Dr. Andrew Singer said. “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.

"We must develop a better understanding of wastewater treatment plants ecotoxicity before the hazards posed by a pandemic influenza medical response can be reliably assessed. However, the production and successful distribution of pre-pandemic and pandemic influenza vaccines could go a long way towards alleviating all of the identified environmental and human health problems highlighted in our paper, with the significant added benefit of reducing morbidity and mortality of the UK population. This latter challenge of vaccination is probably society's greatest challenge, but also where the greatest gains can be made."