Biotech Updates

Sewage Testing Shows Prevalence of COVID-19 Infection

September 30, 2020

Using the genetic signature of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, researchers can detect the virus presence in an area through sewage analysis, even before positive cases turn up from public screening programs. This new testing process is being investigated by experts from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and the University of Queensland.

According to Dr. Paul Bertsch, one of the investigators, the sewage testing process takes advantage of the research finding that infected patients shed the virus in their feces, 2-3 days after infection of SARS-CoV-2 while symptoms are not yet manifesting. When the feces reach the sewerage system, the virus gradually disintegrates, and fragments of the unique RNA structure are left behind. Using filtration technique, the researchers filter out the nano-scale viral and gene fragments from untreated wastewater, then ‘amplify' the fragments to confirm the virus' fingerprint.

The team has tested the methodology in two wastewater treatment plants in the Brisbane region in early 2020 when Australia experienced the first wave of COVID-19. Using the samples, they discovered the intensity of the SARS-CoV-2 signal in Brisbane's wastewater. The analysis of wastewater samples can be completed in just one to 2 days.

Read more from CSIRO.

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