Various researchers and efforts across the nation are trying hard to turn waste into valuable health data. Testing the sewage to identify and ward off illness was largely limited to academic use before the pandemic in the US.
University officials have relied on the tried-and-true public health strategies of testing and contact tracing, since reopening the campus at the University of California-San Diego last summer. But they have also added a tool to their research.
The Latest Disease Detection Tool for COVID-19
A professor of pediatrics, computer science, and engineering, Rob knight who helped in creating the campus’s wastewater testing program said When COVID is detected in sewage, students, staffers, and faculty members are tested, through which they would identify and isolate the infected individuals who were not yet showing symptoms potentially stopping outbreaks in their tracks.
According to a published study, this tool alerted researchers about 85% of COVID-19 cases in dorms before they were diagnosed.
Researchers say they can alert the public health officials according to the trends in infections and there would not be a need to depend on individuals getting tested. There are high hopes for this new disease detection tool because people excrete viruses in feces before they show symptoms, it can serve as an early warning system for outbreaks.
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The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has created a federal database of wastewater samples because it found this practice so promising. This federal database transforms the raw data into valuable information to help local health departments track the spread of viruses. This program has created a public health tool in real-time, experts say, this can be helpful for various purposes beyond the current global pandemic, such as tracking other infectious diseases and resistance of germs to antibiotics.
Amy Kirby, a microbiologist leading the Centre for Disease Control effort said “We think this can really provide valuable data, not just for COVID, but for a lot of diseases,”
The virus that causes COVID infects various types of cells in the body, including those in the respiratory tract and gut. The genetic signature and viral RNA of the virus make their way into feces, and typically show up in poop days before symptoms start.
Researchers are taking samples flowing from individual buildings at UC San Diego and other campuses, capturing the granular data that can help to reduce the number of infected people living or working there. But in most cases due to privacy concerns and resource constraints, testing is done on a larger scale, with the aim of tracking trends over time.
Samples have been collected from wastewater, which is what comes out of our sewage pipes, or sludge, the solids that have settled out of the wastewater. They are typically extracted mechanically or by humans through a dipper on the end of a rod.
The researchers in Davis, California sent text message alerts and hung signs on the doors of 3,000 homes recommending that people should get themselves tested when they saw the viral load rise in several neighborhood sewage streams in July.