Detecting Community Spread of COVID-19 in Wastewater

Detecting Community Spread of COVID-19 in Wastewater

April 16, 2020

One of the reasons the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has been worse in the United States than almost every other country it’s hit around the world is that America fell drastically behind with testing, taking far too long to take meaningful action to find where the virus had already surfaced. This made early containment impossible, and resulted in a testing shortage that continues to persist.

Due to how quickly the virus has made its presence felt on an international scale, there has been a global collaborative scientific effort like nothing ever seen before to find ways to detect COVID-19, beyond just the medical tests that are then examined in laboratory settings. One such method used by researchers in Massachusetts was to examine wastewater to determine community COVID-19 spread.

About the research

In a white paper shared to medRxiv, a medical research server, researchers outlined how they collected samples from a wastewater treatment system in a metropolitan area in Massachusetts in late March. They discovered the number of SARS-CoV-2 particles in the sewage samples from that community meant there was likely a much higher number of people who were infected with COVID-19 in that area than the already-reported cases would indicate.

The research team was from a biotech startup called Biobot Analytics, and it worked alongside researchers from Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Based on the discovered number of particles, the team estimated there were at least 2,300 people who had already been infected with COVID-19 in the area surrounding the treatment facility, despite the official number of 446 cases that had been confirmed so far in the community. These findings aligned with opinions of public health officials, who have considered possibilities that actual numbers of COVID-19 cases were higher than confirmed cases, due to testing shortages and a number of people who would avoid testing for whatever reason.

Another study posted to medRxiv came from researchers in the Netherlands, who also described collecting sewage samples to find coronavirus particles. In some cases, researchers were able to find signs of the novel coronavirus even before there had been an official first diagnosis of the case in a community. Other research has confirmed the virus can be found in stool and bodily fluids.

This means there is clear evidence from very different geographical locations that the virus can be detected in wastewater. As such, some public health officials have started to call for more widespread testing of wastewater in communities across the United States to better be able to determine and predict community COVID-19 spread.

This would not be the first time wastewater has been used for analyzing public health. Biobot also has used wastewater samples to detect opioids, which helps communities track drug usage on a broad scale.

For more information about the ways in which wastewater is being used for public health research and to determine COVID-19 spread in Pisgah Forest, NC and beyond we encourage you to contact Royal Water Works, Inc. today.

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