Survival of human enteric and respiratory viruses on plastics in soil, freshwater, and marine environments


Moresco V, Oliver DM, Weidmann M, Matallana-Surget S & Quilliam RS (2021) Survival of human enteric and respiratory viruses on plastics in soil, freshwater, and marine environments. Environmental Research, 199, Art. No.: 111367.

The public health significance of plastics and microplastics in different environmental matrices has mainly focused on the toxicological effects of human ingestion. But these pollutants can also harbour pathogenic bacteria as the surfaces of plastics in the environment quickly become colonised by microbial biofilm. This novel microbial habitat has been termed the ‘plastisphere’ and could facilitate the survival and dissemination of important bacterial and fungal pathogens. Importantly, however, the role of plastic pollution as a secondary pathway for the transmission of human pathogenic viruses has never been addressed. Due to the high prevalence of both enteric and respiratory viruses in the population and in the environment, there is significant potential for human viruses to become associated with the plastisphere. In this review we critically evaluate current knowledge on the interaction of human enteric and respiratory viruses with plastic surfaces and identify the main environmental conditions and plastic characteristics that could affect virus survival and persistence in the environment. Our hypothesis is that the plastisphere can enhance the adhesion, survival and dissemination of human pathogenic viruses and potentially lead to more effective transfer and transmission of viral diseases within the environment. We identify key research questions needed to more fully assess the potential human health risks associated with viruses on plastic surfaces. These include understanding, (1) the mechanisms of viral attachment to either naked or biofilm-colonised plastic, (2) how the structural characteristics of viruses (e.g., enveloped, or non-enveloped) affect their persistence in the plastisphere, (3) whether the plastisphere offers protection and increases the persistence of infectious viruses in soil, freshwater, and marine environments.

Biofilm; Environmental virology; Microplastics; Plastic pollution; Wastewater

Environmental Research: Volume 199

FundersNERC Natural Environment Research Council and NERC Natural Environment Research Council
Publication date31/08/2021
Publication date online23/05/2021
Date accepted by journal15/05/2021
PublisherElsevier BV

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