Wastewater could give a week of warning for COVID-19 spike, says a new study

indica News Bureau-

In an interesting turn of events, a new study reveals that the wastewater of communities infected with the coronavirus could provide an effective and rapid way to predict the potential spread of the virus.

The wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) approach picks up on biomarkers in feces and urine from disease carriers that enter the sewer system.

Though it remains unclear whether the virus can be transmitted through feces, researchers have also detected coronavirus RNA in raw wastewater. Because most people don’t get tested for the virus until they begin to get sick, and some may never develop symptoms, researchers are considering using sewage to look for early signs that the virus has hit a community.

Dr. Zhugen Yang, Lecturer in Sensor Technology at Cranfield Water Science Institute, said: “If COVID-19 can be monitored in a community at an early stage through WBE, effective intervention can be taken as early as possible to restrict the movements of that local population, working to minimize the pathogen spread and threat to public health.”

According to a study, posted on May 22 at medRxiv.org, showed that, in Connecticut, the amount of the virus’s genetic material in sewage peaked a week before the number of cases in one region did. And hospitalizations related to COVID-19 peaked three days after RNA levels did.

On preliminary level, the study “shows that we can monitor wastewater in cities to get an early warning of when coronavirus outbreaks will occur,” says Aaron Packman, a civil and environmental engineer at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., who was not involved with the work.

Tracking of wastewater is in fact not an uncommon method. Public health experts already use wastewater to track pathogens like poliovirus, norovirus, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Such surveillance for the coronavirus could help pinpoint areas where cases will soon be on the rise.

“It’s far better to get an early warning than waiting until you have large numbers of sick people,” Packman says.

At a time like this, when we have no sign of where the next peak will occur, this method can prove to be instrumental, and save hundreds and thousands of lives. Wastewater is useful after all.