Researchers around the world are investigating the possibility of detecting the new coronavirus in wastewater to see a second wave of infections coming, saving lives.
Researchers in Syracuse, New York, have developed a method capable of detecting the signature of the virus causing COVID-19 by collecting the contents of sewers. According to them, the new coronavirus is not only detectable in the back of the nose or in saliva, but also in the stool!
“As you can imagine, it is quite difficult to extract RNA from a virus from something as dirty as wastewater, but we have managed to do it and I am very satisfied with the results”, microbiologist Hyatt Green of New York State University announced in an interview with the American news channel Spectrum News. More specifically, the wastewater is separated using a centrifuge and is then purified and analyzed.
Not yet perfect
This method is not perfect: sometimes the amount of virus found is small or nonexistent and it is difficult to determine whether it is because the disease is not very present in the community or simply because the virus has had time to decompose or it has been diluted too much in water.
Scientists hope to refine this technique before fall to be able to prevent a possible second wave. The goal is to recognize the birth of an epidemic in a city or neighborhood before it even occurs in hospitals.
Several days, they argue, may take from the time a person is infected with COVID-19 until it is diagnosed because symptoms do not appear immediately and the availability of screening kits is not not always sufficient. Some people are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, but everyone goes to the bathroom daily. Hence the interest in analyzing urban effluents.
Without replacing proven methods of screening individuals, this could potentially save some time. The information would allow political leaders to make more informed decisions about where to intervene to contain outbreaks or, when the results are negative, where it is safe to restart the economy.
As incongruous as it may seem, the idea of detecting the coronavirus in wastewater has been the subject of several other studies, notably in France and the Netherlands. Closer to home, the Canadian Water Network, based in Waterloo, Ontario, has also launched a pilot project.
– With the QMI Agency