As workplaces prepare to reopen, precautionary measures like plexiglass barriers and sanitizer stations have been put in place to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Researchers and public health experts, however, warn that this might not be the only health concern to worry about.

Buildings that have been relatively abandoned for months likely have stagnant water in the plumbing, and if not treated properly, this can be a breeding ground for bacteria. The National Science Foundation awarded a cross-disciplinary team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh $330,000 to examine the effect that silver, embedded in shower fixtures, has on water disinfection.

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Janet E. Stout, president of the Special Pathogens Laboratory and an internationally recognized expert on Legionella, will also contribute to this work.

“Conditions in the water systems of about 50 percent of large buildings promote Legionella growth and spread. Fatal infections occur at a rate of up to 30 percent in hospitals and 10 percent in the community. This research explores how we might interrupt the spread right at the fixture,” said Stout, who also holds and appointment as research associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt.