Scientists Are Testing Wastewater to track Coronavirus across the US

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Researchers at the University of Arizona are testing wastewater across the country to monitor the incidence of Coronavirus in communities across the US and help public health officials to prepare better containment measures.

Sewage collected from several waste treatment plants is being sampled to fully understand where and how widespread the virus is.

Conducting existing diagnostic tests on an entire population is impractical. Testing wastewaters will allow for testing of the novel coronavirus’s presence in millions of people all at once. It will also help the researchers to determine whether the cases are increasing or decreasing.

Humans shed SARS-CoV-2 RNA in their feces. By sampling sewage water from various areas, the virus can be detected, giving scientists an estimate of how prevalent COVID-19 is.

The virus is extracted from the sample; then, the technology is used to count the individual viruses.

Wastewater from crop fields can also be checked using a similar method to check for bacteria like E.coli. Scientists have been doing these tests throughout the community twice a week, especially in agricultural companies where workers’ health and safety need to be checked to make sure they are healthy enough to produce food.

Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture (YCEDA) received a grant of $500,000 from the Arizona Department of Health Services to fund this project, and it is proving to be quite successful.

Recently, a small outbreak in the Yuma agricultural company, Datepac, was detected early on. Datepac facility has 200 employees. While there were no physical signs of the virus in the employees, the virus was detected in the sewage water. A similar thing happened in the dormitories of Arizona Western College.

Microbiologists have used sewage monitoring programs to study pathogenic viruses for decades. For example, it has been very helpful in the control and eradication of poliovirus, hepatitis A, enteroviruses, and noroviruses, but Covid-19 is a new disease, and there is still a lot to learn regarding its transmission, the severity of the illness caused by it, and to what extent it may spread.

As the new strains of Coronavirus are sequenced and studied in the wastewater samples, the scientists hope to correlate the deadly virus concentration in sewage with recorded numbers of cases to help public health officials prepare better mitigation strategies and prevent the disease.

Scientists point out that although there may be no community risk from the virus in wastewater, it does exist in wastewater, providing valuable information regarding the virus and serving as an early warning method for its control.