Testing for COVID-19 in sewage could serve as 'advance warning,' help prepare for 2nd wave 2020-05-31
2020-05-31 from cbc.ca
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been found in the feces of infected people. In one way, at least, it's a good thing — it means testing sewage could potentially be a simple way to detect and track outbreaks, say researchers developing techniques to do just that.
"And so as opposed to testing every single person, we can actually test the waste water — the waste outputs of the entire population — to be able to see if it's there," said Natalie Prystajecky, environmental microbiologist with the BC Centre for Disease Control Public Health Laboratory and clinical assistant professor at the University of British Columbia.
"This is something that can serve as an early warning system to show that it is increasing in the population."
Testing waste water could be used in a number of ways. It may provide:
- Earlier warning than clinical tests or hospitalizations that the disease's spread is growing in a given area or community, particularly when a second wave of the epidemic arrives.
- A way to detect outbreaks at vulnerable institutions such as prisons or meat packing facilities without testing everyone there.
- Evidence that testing isn't reaching certain groups, or there is more asymptomatic spread than expected.
One study published in the journal Gastroenterology found that the virus was detectable in the stools of more than half of 73 COVID-19 patients tested. And 17 of those patients continued to test positive in their stools after showing negative results from nose or throat swabs. (There haven't been any reports of the disease spreading through feces, and scientists think the risk is low based on studies of other coronaviruses.)
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