newsGP - Wastewater tests for COVID launching in bid to spot outbreaks early

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A pioneering surveillance program is already proving its worth in finding virus fragments – and alerting authorities to potential cases.
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Wastewater tests for COVID launching in bid to spot outbreaks early

Doug Hendrie 10/09/2020 12:55:40 PM

Wastewater testing should give authorities the ability to notice hotspots early and bring in public health measures accordingly.

Every week, workers are taking samples of wastewater in sewage treatment plants and pumping stations around Australia. These vials will be analysed for traces of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The ultimate goal of the Water Research Australia project ColoSSoS – Collaboration on Sewage Surveillance of SARS-COV-2 – is to accurately detect the presence of the virus in sewage and, ideally, to provide early warning well before people notice symptoms and come in for testing.

People start shedding the virus as early as two days after becoming infected.

For the cost of around $500 per sample, wastewater testing should give authorities the ability to notice hotspots early and bring in public health measures accordingly.

Wastewater testing is most useful when the virus is present at low levels and not self-evident from clinical testing in those same areas, holding out the promise of new ways of keeping the virus as low as possible, in conjunction with tracing, testing and other surveillance methods.

The tests have now been shown to detect the virus even at very low levels; but to help better inform decision-makers, the results gathered to date need to be analysed so the methods can be calibrated in areas of high, medium, low and zero COVID presence.

Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said in a statement that wastewater testing 'may be able to give us early warning that coronavirus is in a community and the head start we need for early detection and preventive action'.

Early testing has found traces of the virus in wastewater in regional towns like Apollo Bay in Victoria, Airlie Beach in Queensland and Perisher ski resort in NSW.

The project is most advanced in Victoria, with up to 300 samples a week tested from 25…
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