Scientists find a faster cheaper way to find outbreaks in our wastewater
Tracking community outbreaks of COVID-19 through wastewater can happen faster, using more cost-effective tests, according to the CSIRO.
The new research published by the Australian national science agency builds on previous trials which tested untreated sewage and found fragments of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Scientists have now refined their methods of concentrating and recovering the virus from wastewater samples, which can indicate the presence of COVID-19 carriers in the community, regardless of whether they show symptoms.
Of the seven methods tested, the most cost-effective and rapid wastewater tests take between 15 to 30 minutes to process.
Testing is conducted on untreated sewage, collected as it enters a water treatment plant to provide community-level results.
“Based on our knowledge of the persistence of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater, drinking water is very well protected against all viruses, including the new coronavirus,” stated a CSIRO release.
It is estimated that worldwide wastewater monitoring could save up to US$1 billion for national monitoring programs depending on frequency of sampling and population, according to research.
Wastewater monitoring is significantly cheaper and faster than clinical screening for COVID-19 and could help to avoid a second wave of the pandemics.
“This unique monitoring breakthrough will ensure each suburb gets the medical support it needs so all of us, as a nation, can stay healthier,” said CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall.
CSIRO researcher Dr Warish Ahmed, who led a study evaluating the concentration, recovery and detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA (its genetic code), said: “We will keep refining the virus concentration and detection methods to provide more sensitive and accurate results of the viral load in wastewater.
“This will provide information on the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community so public health officials can have as much information as possible to manage an outbreak in a timely manner.”
The results will be shared with a global scientific collaboration bringing together more than 50 global experts in water-based epidemiology (WBE) to share testing methods and data to monitor the current pandemic and prevent future outbreaks.