Since 2003, there has been significant concern about the possibility of an outbreak of avian influenza virus subtype H5N1. Moreover, in the last few months, a pandemic of a novel swine-origin influenza A virus, namely A(H1N1), has already caused hundreds of thousands of human cases of illness and thousands of deaths. As those viruses could possibly contaminate water resources through wild birds excreta or through sewage, the aim of our work was to find out whether the treatment processes in use in the drinking water industry are suitable for eradicating them. The effectiveness of physical treatments (coagulation-flocculation-settling, membrane ultrafiltration and ultraviolet) was assessed on H5N1, and that of disinfectants (monochloramine, chlorine dioxide, chlorine, and ozone) was established for both the H5N1 and H1N1 viruses. Natural water samples were spiked with human H5N1/H1N1 viruses. For the coagulation-settling experiments, raw surface water was treated in jar-test pilots with 3 different coagulating agents (aluminum sulfate, ferric chloride, aluminum polychorosulfate). Membrane performance was quantified using a hollow-fiber ultrafiltration system. Ultraviolet irradiation experiments were conducted with a collimated beam that made it possible to assess the effectiveness of various UV doses (25-60 mJ/cm2). In the case of ozone, 0.5 mg/L and 1 mg/L residual concentrations were tested with a contact time of 10 min. Finally, for chlorine, chlorine dioxide and monochloramine treatments, several residual oxidant target levels were tested (from 0.3 to 3 mg/L) with contact times of 5-120 min. The infectivity of the H5N1 and H1N1 viruses in water samples was quantified in cell culture using a microtiter endpoint titration. The impact of coagulation-settling on the H5N1 subtype was quite low and variable. In contrast, ultrafiltration achieved more than a 3-log reduction (and more than a 4-log removal in most cases), and UV treatment was readily effective on its inactivation (more than a 5-log inactivation with a UV dose of 25 mJ/cm2). Of the chemical disinfection treatments, ozone, chlorine and chlorine dioxide were all very effective in inactivating H5N1 and H1N1, whereas monochloramine treatment required higher doses and longer contact times to achieve significant reductions. Our findings suggest that the water treatment strategies that are currently used for surface water treatment are entirely suitable for removing and/or inactivating influenza A viruses. Appropriate preventive actions can be defined for single disinfection treatment plants.
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