According to research data it was previously reported that several sorts of human and zoonotic pathogens can find their way to humans and animals through the aid of microplastics thus exposing biodiversity and human life to an increased risk of potential health complications.
Several wastewater plants and pollution control technologies are leading to the effective removal of lots of microplastics from the water which leads to its reduced impact on human health. But according to Richard Quilliam of Stirling University, “We found that viruses can attach to microplastics and that allows them to survive in the water for three days, possibly longer,”
Some earlier studies have also performed experiments in the same setting which has shown how the viruses really act. He went on to say that “We weren’t sure how well viruses could survive by ‘hitchhiking’ on plastic in the environment, but they do survive and they do remain infectious,”
This study that came to light has shown that those viruses which cause diarrhoea and vomiting tend to get attached or latch onto these microplastics and then stay in the water bodies.
Specialist healthcare practitioners at Healthwire have also commented on the severity of this situation and the need to explore this horizon further.
What are Microplastics?
Microplastics are materials that are synthetically produced and are often smaller than 5mm. They are often discarded in nature such as in soil, water, and other aquatic bodies. They are known to be quickly colonized.
Several previous types of research have commented that human and animal pathogens have the ability to form an alliance on these microplastics. The use of various pollution control technologies such as wastewater treatment plants and strategies are able to reduce and remove the microplastics from sewage water. It is also pertinent to note here that sewage water is one of the leading causes of microplastics in the environment.
Therefore a profound knowledge of such matters is highly important because it leads to better and informed healthcare decisions in the longer run.
At present several researchers have assessed the stability quotient of the virus and its ability to get attached to microplastics.
The Area of Water Study
The research consisted of two types of virus one is bacteriophage also known as Phi6 and the other is SA11 (RV). The 1st one comes with an envelope while the other one didn’t have any coating or such thing.
In order to conduct the research, the scientist first grew biofilms on 2mm polyethene microplastic pellets. They did that by inserting these films into flasks that had filtered lake water in them or unfiltered lake water or that water that was loaded with nutrients that leads to microbial growth.
These films were then inserted into flasks containing 100 ml of fresh water and 1ml of Phi6 or rotavirus in 1ml. The researchers then tracked virus particle numbers on it so that the microplastics can be extracted from 1ml of water at the time lapse of 3 hours, 24 hours, and 48 hours.
This study resulted in the formation of both Phi6 and RV on the microplastics.
Although it did lead to a decline in virus stability the virus inactivation was still minimized in biofilm colonies pellets as compared to water samples.
The protection of Biofilm
Dr. Nikolas Stasuli who is the assistant professor in the Department of Biology and Environmental Science commented on the interaction of viruses on microplastics as:
“As the authors note, much of the ability to ‘hitchhike’ on microplastics is because of the layer of biofilm that is formed by bacteria on the microplastics. Once bacteria attach and adhere to the surface of microplastics they can keep recruiting more bacteria through the production of biofilm, which acts like a biological glue that can help keep bacteria in close association with each other.”
He also said that “During this process, other, smaller things in the surrounding area — like viruses or chemical compounds — can also become attached to this biofilm. It is widely known that biofilm can protect bacteria encased within it from factors like antibiotics and unfavourable environmental changes — like drying out — so it could be that viruses attached to this biofilm are granted the same type of protection from environmental changes that may inactivate them,”
The Study Limitations
Another researcher who was not involved in the process said that the scientists did not account for the factor of bioaerosols. Furthermore, another limitation was not factoring for the biofilms, sand, and dust.
Dr. Stasulli also said that “[m]ore studies will certainly be conducted on a variety of viral human pathogens which will include variables like the route of infection and the infectious dose.”
“Combining future information on viral infectious dose and route of microplastic ingestion, along with the variables discussed in this novel study, will certainly help to establish the impact that viruses on biofilm-coated microplastics can have on human health,”