Viral Video of Tap Water Testing Positive for COVID Explained

A viral video on TikTok shows a COVID-19 test exposed to tap water showing positive for the virus. But this doesn't mean that COVID is present in tap water.

In the video, which has been viewed almost 4 million times with over 314,000 likes, Dr. Karan Raj shows the test line of a lateral flow COVID test developing after exposure to water.

Raj cracks open the casing of another test and shows the portions of the test strip that contain antibodies sensitive to COVID. He adds that exposure to substances like water or soda changes the pH level of the strip which alters the functioning of these antibodies.

That, Raj adds, is why, when using a lateral flow COVID test, samples are placed in a buffer solution. This solution helps the test strip maintain its pH level and rating its normal function.

ABC 24 has reported that some COVID-19 testing kits are not being used to test humans, but rather are being used to test tap water. It adds that this is fueling a social media trend of people testing tap water and getting a positive COVID result.

The manufacturers of Abbott BinaxNOW COVID-19 rapid home test said in a statement to ABC 24 that its test is not designed to be used with any other liquids or foods. This is because, as Raj points out, the chemical properties of other substances change the functioning of the device.

The statement continued: "Spreading misinformation with deliberate misuse of a medical product during a pandemic is misleading, irresponsible, and dangerous to public health."

Infectious disease expert, Steve Threlkeld, told ABC 24: "The whole thing is ridiculous because these tests are finely tuned and you can't just put whatever material you want to in there.

"It's like me saying, 'you know, I need to do a blood test on you but I can't get blood so I am going to pour your urine specimen on it and run that.' I mean that would be crazy."

Can COVID Be Transmitted Through Water?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says: "The virus that causes COVID-19 has not been detected in drinking water.

"Conventional water treatment methods that use filtration and disinfection, such as those in most municipal drinking water systems, should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19."

In a video produced for the World Health Organisation (WHO) its director of the Department of Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness, Dr. Sylvie Briand, said: "Water cannot transmit COVID-19. Drinking water is not transmitting COVID-19."

Briand continued by explaining how this applies to swimming and the use of pools and hot tubs. She added: "If you swim in a swimming pool or in a pond, you cannot get COVID-19 through water.

"But what can happen, if you go to a swimming pool, which is crowded and if you are close to other the people and if someone is infected, then you can be of course affected. So, that's why even in swimming pools, it's important to maintain physical distancing."

The CDC says that as long as pools and hot tubs are properly maintained and disinfected in the usual way the virus should be inactivated in water. The CDC says that measures like social distancing and handwashing while using these facilities is still essential.

The CDC adds that while COVID-19 has been found in untreated wastewater, there is still no evidence that exposure to the virus in this way could lead to the development of the virus.

The CDC also says that based on current information both standard municipal and individual septic systems wastewater treatments should inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19.

Tap water COVID test
A stock image of a running tap and a stack of COVID tests. A social media trend of using tap water to get a positive COVID test has been debunked by Dr. Karan Raj. aprott/ Ville Heikkinen/Getty