U.K. Program Pilots Covid-19 Detection System in Wastewater

Scientists will begin a £1m research program in the United Kingdom for detecting the new coronavirus in wastewater. Since a majority of people who have contracted SARS-CoV-2 may shed the virus in their feces, a sewage-based surveillance system could serve as a warning for future outbreaks.

The program, led by the UK Center of Ecology and Hydrology, involves researchers and experts from England, Scotland, and Wales, in partnership with government agencies, water companies, and public health officials.

The teams will not only develop a standardized system of sampling and testing wastewater for virus detection. They will also work to better understand how infectious the virus is after being released from the body. The hope is this program, by lowering the cost of monitoring, will be able to detect a surge in the virus, identifying its prevalence within a community, even among those who do not show symptoms and would not seek out a test.

This example of wastewater epidemiology — the study of wastewater to inform decisions in public health — could monitor the pandemic as well as other infectious diseases.

“Wastewater could effectively become the ‘canary in a coal mine’,” said Andrew Singer, the project’s principal investigator.

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