Assessing the potential of low-cost, on-site disinfection options to reduce Ebola transmission

  • Taylor, Huw (PI)
  • Ebdon, James (CoI)
  • Lantagne, Danielle (CoI)
  • Da Silva, Diogo Trajano Gomes (CoI)
  • Dias, Edgard (PI)

Project Details


In collaboration with Tufts University in the United States, University of Brighton scientists examined the effectiveness of disinfection protocols used at Ebola Treatment Centres (ETC).

A series of experiments were conducted to improve existing protocols and to help develop new ways to dispose of human excreta safely during Ebola outbreaks. The aim of this work was to prevent the onward transmission of Ebola from infected human waste in emergency settings, but the work has ready applications in other disease outbreak settings.

The researchers compared the ability of chlorine- and lime-based disinfection methods to remove bacterial and viral indicator organisms (bacteriophages) from human excreta. This initially involved pilot-scale experiments, but the work was then extended to full-scale experiments that better mimic on-site conditions during disease outbreaks.

The project aimed to compare established disinfection protocols currently used by humanitarian organisations with novel approaches to enable global public health policy-makers, such as the US CDC and the WHO, to provide evidence-base advice on sanitation practice during disease outbreaks. It was funded by USAid and the Body Shop Foundation.

Key findings

Following the Ebola outbreak in East Africa, there remained an urgent need to develop more effective disinfection practices for the medical and faecal waste produced by treatment centres in disaster settings. Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with additional support from the Body Shop Foundation, this project hopes to support better practices following outbreaks of many other infectious disease.

To address this challenge, researchers developed a low-cost hydrated lime-based treatment capable of raising the pH of excreta to very high levels. This inactivates pathogens present in excreta, and encapsulates them within a lime slurry where they no longer pose an infection risk. Unlike chlorine-based excreta treatment, lime does not readily produce toxic by-products, is less prone to spills and is better suited to treating waste such as faeces and vomit with a high organic content. The method offers a safer and more effective means of excreta management, especially in situations where underlying geology or proximity to the water table prevents the burial of such waste. Low-cost in situ treatment plants also eliminate the hazardous practice of transporting contagious materials by truck to uncontrolled disposal sites.

The collaboration provided important new information on the behaviour and die-off of viruses in human excreta and the findings provided humanitarian organisations, such as Médecins Sans Frontières and Oxfam with the scientific evidence they need to better protect human health during disasters.

The findings proved of considerable international interest and contributed to a growing body of knowledge that will potentially help to reduce the risk of serious disease for people in vulnerable communities for many years.

Effective start/end date1/06/1530/06/16


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