Wastewater sampling to monitor disease here to stay, experts say

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Throughout the pandemic, scientists have found wastewater analyses often provide an accurate picture of COVID-19 prevalence in a given area, The New York Times reported May 6. 

In the early months of the pandemic, research confirmed people infected with COVID-19 often shed the virus in their stool, sparking more interest in the niche field of wastewater epidemiology. 

Teams across the globe tracking the coronavirus in sewage have found that when COVID-19 cases rise in a certain region, so does the amount of coronavirus in the region's wastewater. Similarly, virus levels in the sewage fell in areas that had lockdowns in place. 

While not a replacement for traditional testing, wastewater surveillance has also served as an early warning system for researchers, with virus levels in the water rising days before an official peak in COVID-19 cases was reported, and can be an effective complement when clinical testing isn't widely available. 

"Not every population gets tested, not everyone has access to healthcare," Marc Johnson, PhD, a virologist at the University of Missouri in Columbia, told the Times. "If there's groups of people that are asymptomatic, they probably aren't getting tested. So you aren't really getting the full big picture. Whereas for our testing, everyone poops."

Experts predict wastewater monitoring could eventually become a regular public health practice to track the prevalence of infectious diseases throughout communities. 

"This isn't the last infectious disease that will come through our water supplies," Belinda Sturm, PhD, environmental engineer at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, told the Times. "This is a tool that we should make sure that we keep sharpened."

 

 

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