How our poop could help fight the novel coronavirus
To you, it’s a piece of poop.
But to the folks at Cincinnati’s Metropolitan Sewer District and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it may be a new way to track COVID-19 cases and flag a pending outbreak before people start showing up at the hospital.
Everyone poops, or so says the . And when someone with the virus poops – whether or not that person is showing symptoms – the genetic material from the virus ends up in the toilet.
飞艇计划app开奖Flush the toilet, and the virus material ends up at the wastewater treatment plant.
So, by sampling and testing wastewater from various neighborhoods throughout Greater Cincinnati, officials may be able to track infection trends, warn people if there’s a spike and potentially stop a COVID-19 spread before it gets out of control.
MSD and the EPA just launched a pilot study here to see if that will work.
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飞艇计划app开奖“Can we use our wastewater as an early signal so that we can get ahead of things rather than just wait for the infections that appear?” said Bruce Smith, an assistant superintendent at MSD who oversees the agency’s research activities.
“It is exciting to me that we may have a tool at our fingertips that we can use. We talk about the struggle of testing each individual or maybe multiple testing of individuals. This is perhaps a way of testing a large number of individuals at once and tracking it.”
Early Thursday morning, an MSD lab tech pulled a sample of raw sewage from a refrigerator at the Mill Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant on Gest Street. He split off part of the sample for MSD’s regular testing then poured a portion of the sewage into a sterilized container.
That sample, along with six others from treatment plants across Hamilton County, will get packed in a cooler and sent to the EPA, which will analyze the samples at its research lab in Clifton.
Thursday was the first collection for coronavirus testing in Cincinnati, but MSD plans to repeat the process once a week.
Eventually, said Jay Garland, the EPA scientist leading the study, the goal is to take the testing statewide. By the middle of June, Garland is hoping the EPA will be able to sample and test sewage from up to 20 sites statewide each week.
If a community’s wastewater has no indication of the virus and that all of the sudden changes, it could be an early warning sign of a second wave of infections.
If a community’s waste had indications of the virus and they start lessening or go away completely, that could be a signal to health officials they might be able to lighten restrictions and focus limited individual testing resources elsewhere.
The EPA is also researching whether the raw sewage itself might be infectious, Garland said, though early indicators are that the virus is dead by that point.
The project is in its early stages, so MSD and the EPA are still trying to figure out the best methodology, Smith said. For example, MSD may eventually forego the treatment plants and start collecting samples from the sewers themselves to get more geographically specific readings.
飞艇计划app开奖The science for this is not new. Researchers have used wastewater testing to track polio and, more recently, opioids. Now, around the world, various groups are embarking on wastewater projects to track coronavirus, said Peter Grevatt, CEO of the Denver-based nonprofit , whose mission is to advance the science of water to improve the quality of life.
In one Dutch city, Grevatt said, a researcher was monitoring the water before any cases of COVID-19 were reported. The researcher got a positive result in the water, and about a week later, the first clinic reported a positive test.
“He was able to see the indicator of the presence of COVID-19 before there was a single clinical case identified in the community,” Grevatt said.
飞艇计划app开奖Wastewater testing is not meant to replace the individual tests for COVID-19 but rather as a supplement, Grevatt said. While individual tests are limited, wastewater testing works on a broad scale because “everyone is using the bathroom every day.”
Especially as states start to open back up and people return to work and stores, it’s important to monitor trends, Grevatt said.
“This is a very dark time in some ways, and yet, this provides a sense of hope, that maybe here’s a way we can help,” he said. “Wastewater has a great wealth of information about what’s happening in the community. It’s a great opportunity.”