Sewage Surveillance of Students Helped Prevent COVID Outbreak Says University of Arizona

By B.N. Frank

Scientists worldwide have been collecting and analyzing sewage in order to track the coronavirus through human waste.

This now includes at the University of Arizona where they are using test results to aggressively implement contact tracing among dorm residents.

As if group bathrooms weren’t awkward enough.

From NBC News:

How the University of Arizona used No. 2 to solve its No. 1 problem: The coronavirus

The university made a bold claim this week: It stopped a coronavirus outbreak before it started.

The university said it pulled this off by combining more common forms of coronavirus mitigation, swab testing and contact tracing, with a more exotic one: analyzing sewage.

The university had implemented a campus-wide initiative to conduct what’s known as wastewater-based epidemiology. This effort, which involves analyzing sewage samples for traces of the coronavirus, gave the university a way to quickly and repeatedly look for traces of the virus in discrete groups of people — in this case, dorms — as part of an early warning system to catch cases of COVID-19.

“From one test, we get the prevalence of the virus within the whole community,” said Ian Pepper, an environmental microbiologist who is leading the wastewater testing effort on campus.

The idea is catching on. Researchers in the United Kingdom launched a program in July to conduct cross-country wastewater surveillance. In Israel, scientists who collected sewage samples nationwide in March and April heralded the effort as an effective, noninvasive way of tracking outbreaks across geographic regions.

At the University of Arizona, Pepper said this type of testing is especially useful for finding and isolating infected individuals before they have a chance to spread the virus widely. The two cases that have been identified at the university were both asymptomatic, and Pepper said wastewater testing could be sensitive enough to detect the coronavirus up to a week before a person develops symptoms.

“So, you have seven precious days in which you can undergo intervention,” he said.

Read full article

Image: Pixabay

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