Wastewater Hygiene and Safety

Why do we have an image of a Pomeranian drinking if we are talking about wastewater? We’ll get to that. So, follow along and welcome back after a summer break to Hemopet’s Blog! 

One of the few silver linings due to the COVID-19 pandemic is that many of us cherish precious moments with our friends and families more so than ever. Another is that many companion pets were adopted into their new forever homes. 

A silver lining we think is oft overlooked is today’s global acceleration, application and rapid adoption of science by society. For instance, fairly accurate at-home COVID-19 rapid test kits are (usually) readily available, despite the increase in false and fraudulent products. Indeed, rapid influenza diagnostic tests (RIDT) for the current disease strains have been available since the 1990’s to healthcare providers to test patients, but are not accessible to the masses at the drugstore. Nowadays, COVID-19 and RIDT antigen test kits are being authorized for at-home use by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). 

The different testing options – from nasal, to saliva, to blood-based, to feces – expose the many routes a virus can be shed from a body. 

Think about how not unknown and novel this knowledge actually is – even though it seems novel. As savvy companion dog parents know, canine parvovirus is shed primarily through dog feces and can live in the ground for many years. 

Which brings us to our next point. 

Wastewater testing for viruses such as polio and other microorganisms to fend off epidemics has been employed for years. COVID-19 brought the technology to the forefront of the media as many municipalities – and particularly colleges and universities – started testing for early detection of the virus. 

However, the application of wastewater testing has not stopped there, but has fueled investigations into other viruses that might be found in sewage. 

One such investigation tested a wastewater treatment plant in Louisville, Kentucky for enteroviruses (EV). Over 90% of us infected with EVs are asymptomatic, but EVs are responsible for thousands of hospitalizations annually. Plus, all infected individuals excrete 100,000,000 EV virus particles/gram through their feces. 

This study wanted to find out which enterovirus species were present. 

They found not only 2 species of human EVs, but also one species of porcine EV. But wait, there’s more that appeared to shock the researchers…and this is where it gets to be more complicated. 

First, put Darwin science caps on please: Genus Enterovirus is in the family of Picornaviridae. Think of it as a subcategory. Here are a couple of examples for reference. Dogs are in the family of Canidae, the genus is Canis, and the species is Canis familiaris. Humans are in the family of Hominidae, our genus is Homo, and our species is Homo sapiens

Back to the shocker. The researchers also detected two unclassified canine picornaviruses that have not been previously described in the USA. They have, however, been described in dogs in the United Arab Emirates, China and Hong Kong for over a decade. (Note: picoRNa – there is no “O” between the “R” and the “N”; it is not a coronavirus.)

The study authors do not speculate on how the two unclassified canine picornaviruses made it into the wastewater. It could be people are flushing their dogs’ poop. We know as well that picornaviruses are widely prevalent. Enteroviruses are transmitted by the fecal-oral route, via salivary and respiratory droplets, and in some cases via conjunctival secretions and skin lesion exudates. Cockroaches and flies may also be vectors. Inevitably, no one has enough information to know the exact routes for the presence of canine picornaviruses at Louisville’s wastewater treatment plant. 

Bear in mind, this information should serve as a reminder, rather than scare you. 

It reminds us of the widely announced April, 2022 survey about how unhygienic many Americans are with handling pet food bowls and pet food, and are unaware of the FDA’s guidelines. At the time, we assumed you were aware of this concern as we had previously discussed pet food bowls and the importance of picking up after your pet on our blog. The study authors also focused on bacterial contamination – not viral. E. coli? Staphylococcus? That also was ‘old news’ to us – and possibly yours. Still clinically significant and concerning? Most definitely due to antibiotic resistance.

Once we read about the picornaviruses, that’s when we knew we had to remind everyone about safe-handling practices because of the unknown. 

We have included a link to the FDA’s guidelines above. For us, these are the main points we would like all households to follow:

#1. Wash your companion pets’ bowls between every use – no matter what you are feeding. 

#2. Wash your hands after handling your pet’s food (and after treats…and the kisses).

#3. Clean surfaces after handling your food and your pet’s food (don’t forget the sink!). 

#4. Use stainless steel or ceramic pet food and water bowls.

#5. Pick up after your companion dogs daily. Scoop your companion cats’ litter box regularly. Wash your hands afterward.

#6. Do not let pet food sit out longer than 15 minutes


Faleye, Temitope O., et al. “Detection of Human, Porcine and Canine Picornaviruses in Municipal Sewage Sludge Using Pan-Enterovirus Amplicon-Based Long-Read Illumina Sequencing.” Emerging Microbes & Infections, vol. 11, no. 1, 23 May 2022, pp. 1339–1342, https://doi.org/10.1080/22221751.2022.2071173.  

Green, Daniel A., and Kirsten St George. “Rapid Antigen Tests for Influenza: Rationale and Significance of the FDA Reclassification.” Journal of Clinical Microbiology, vol. 56, no. 10, 25 Sept. 2018, https://doi.org/10.1128/jcm.00711-18

Vogel, Gretchen. “Signals from the Sewer: Measuring Virus Levels in Wastewater Can Help Track the Pandemic. But How Useful Is That?” Science, 9 Mar. 2022, https://www.science.org/content/article/pandemic-signals-sewer-what-virus-levels-wastewater-tell-us

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