Inadequate plumbing seen as possible contributor to SARS transmission: WHO

Inadequate plumbing is likely to have been a contributor to the spread of SARS in residential buildings in China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday.

The WHO said that in the absence of proper maintenance and without consistent monitoring, reviewing, enforcing and updating of building standards and practices, inadequate plumbing and sewage systems could continue to potentially enhance the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and some other diseases.

An international group of WHO experts are meeting in Rome and reviewing the transmission risks related to the current state of plumbing systems around the world and how inadequate construction and maintenance practices could contribute to the spread of SARS.

The meeting concluded that it would be relatively easy to interrupt and avoid some disease, including SARS, if it were to return, and developed a check list of environmental hygiene factors on building design and maintenance.

"With this consultation, the WHO is helping its member states appreciate the need to assess and manage the health risks associated with inadequate plumbing and sewage systems," Jamie Bartram, head of the WHO's Water, Sanitation and Health Program, commented at the programs's Geneva headquarters.

It has been suggested that the "faecal droplet" route may have been one of several modes of transmission in Hong Kong during the SARS outbreak in early 2003.

Experts at the Rome consultation emphasized that proper plumbing is a simple public health measure that is often overlooked but can be addressed at minimal extra cost. They said it is a significant tool in stopping faecal droplet transmission of diseases.

The experts meeting at the WHO European Center for Environment and Health in Rome came from nine countries and represented the fields of epidemiology, virology, environmental health, risk assessment and management, building design and plumbing.



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