Following the lead of colleagues in the Netherlands and the United States, researchers in Australia are investigating the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in sewage.
Because infected individuals shed the virus in their feces, raw sewage could serve as an early-warning signal for the spread of the virus in an area. Sewage sampling could also serve as an indicator of the number of infected people, since testing each individual with throat and nasal swabs is slow and cumbersome.
The University of Queensland and CSIRO, the national science agency, are leading the sewage-sampling effort in Australia.
“A national program based on this work could add to the broader suite of measures our government can use in the identification and containment of Covid-19,” Greg Hunt, the national health minister, said in a statement.
Sampling in the Netherlands showed that virus particles began to show up in a city’s sewage when confirmed cases were between one and four per 100,000 people.