Detect the presence of the new coronavirus as early as possible in medico-social establishments to quickly isolate positive cases and prevent the development of devastating clusters in populations at risk. This is the objective of the experiment in monitoring wastewater at the exit of accommodation establishments for dependent elderly people (Ehpad) that the battalion has been carrying out since September on more than a hundred sites in the Marseille metropolitan area. marine firefighters and a local start-up, C4Diagnostics, specializing in infectious diseases.
This is a pilot project and the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Regional Health Agency (ARS) cautiously announces that it cannot “Comment on the scientific validity of this method”. But she pays special attention to it, while 359 nursing home residents were diagnosed positive in the Bouches-du-Rhône in one week. On October 30, the agency officially committed with the Marseille firefighter battalion (BMP) in an eight-week experimental protocol to extend the system to ten other nursing homes and sixteen new establishments for people with disabilities in the Bouches-du-Rhône.
The idea of this targeted strategy germinated from the first confinement. In addition to the national initiative of the Epidemiological Observatory in Wastewater (Obépine), the BMP, supported by the city of Marseille, is launching analyzes of wastewater from the city’s wastewater treatment plant. C4Diagnostics, a company created in 2017 on the Luminy university campus, develops collection kits and performs tests.
A “war of movement”
Surveillance made it possible, from the end of July, to detect “Weak signals” announcing the rebound of the pandemic that has affected Marseille. “Testing wastewater on a city scale gives a macro map of the situation, but we wanted to refine our perception of infected areas to target our PCR testing campaigns, and above all do everything to protect the most vulnerable populations”, explains Rear Admiral Patrick Augier, commander of the BMP, who sees the fight against Covid as “A war of movement”.
The Comete cell – for Covid-19 Marseille Environment Testing – bringing together around forty marine firefighters launched in September a surveillance of voluntary nursing homes. Seventy-eight establishments in the metropolis are thus tested once a week. “Working on wastewater is not easy, because a whole bunch of junk messes up reading, acknowledges Younes Lazrak, co-founder of C4Diagnostics. We are looking for the RNA of the virus and we have refined our methods until reaching a sensitivity of 100 genomic copies of the virus per milliliter. In an nursing home, this makes it possible to detect a positive resident out of a hundred residents. »
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