Studies have found that health officials could get up to one week’s warning of a coronavirus spike – by examining human feces at sewage plants.
Many people don’t get tested until they actually feel sick. Therefore, this new development could help greatly in the early detection of the coronavirus in specific communities.
Yale University researchers have discovered that the coronavirus’ RNA can be detected in the stool of some COVID-19 patients.
While its not yet certain whether the virus can be transmitted between feces, researchers have found traces of COVID-19 in raw sewage water.
The researchers have pointed towards an example in New Haven, Connecticut. In this study, the coronavirus RNA (genetic material) found in sewage water reached a high point a week before the number of cases in that specific region did.
Coronavirus-related hospitalizations reached their peak three days after the maximum RNA levels, suggesting a direct correlation.
As states in America begin to ease lockdown measures, samples taken from wastewater plants could assist local authorities to implement stricter regulations when required.
“It’s far better to get an early warning than waiting until you have large numbers of sick people,” said Aaron Packman, a civil and environmental engineer at Northwestern University in Evanston.
Other pathogens such as poliovirus and antibiotic-resistant bacteria have also previously been traced via this method.
Germany also searching its sewage for coronavirus
Similar studies on the testing of feces for coronavirus traces are also being conducted in Germany.
The Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research is leading the testing of sewage plants in the Leipzig area.
The goal is to have this testing done throughout Germany. However, in big cities, there are challenges in terms of volume, as was noted in the Leipzig study.
The scientists do however remain optimistic that they will still be able to identify spikes of coronavirus infections.
Image credit: Montgomery County Planning Commission