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Saturday, April 10th, 2021

Research pinpoints viral outbreaks by looking at sewage

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Research from Battelle shows that wastewater analysis can pinpoint neighborhoods that are hotspots for viral outbreaks of COVID-19.

A preliminary report was preprinted on Feb. 20 in the MedRxIv found that by testing wastewater for the presence of SARS-COV-2 and other pathogens, they were able to identify specific neighborhoods where infectious disease outbreaks were occurring.

“What’s different about our study is that we sampled effluent from a neighborhood, from a nursing home, and from two hospitals to provide a more fine-scale picture of where COVID-19 was present, and we have sequenced the COVID-19 to identify viral variants circulating within the city,” said Senior Genomics Research Scientist Rachel Spurbeck.

The team from Battelle tested wastewater in Toledo, Ohio, throughout July 2020. Funded by the National Science Foundation through a COVID-19 rapid response grant, the team collected effluent from specific manhole locations around the city using 24-hour automatic samplers.

Researchers said wastewater analysis could help identify areas to test for COVID-19, which would help control outbreaks, rather than testing wide swaths of a population, a process that can be expensive, time-consuming, inconvenient, and complex.

“This work, when expanded across the country in other cities and neighborhoods, will enable our economy to reopen safely by differentiating regions by SARS-CoV-2 prevalence in a fine-tuned manner,” said Spurbeck. “It will help contact tracing to focus on regions where it is needed and to reduce fear or anxiety where there is little to no viral load.”

The paper will appear in “Science of the Total Environment” following peer review.