People infected with the coronavirus can shed extremely high levels of the virus in their stools before they show symptoms – if they ever do – suggesting that wastewater testing is a way for health officials to detect budding outbreaks in the Researchers have found that recognizing the community early on

Scientists at MIT and elsewhere compared coronavirus levels in wastewater from a municipal sewage treatment plant in Massachusetts to Covid-19 cases in the same area and found that changes in coronavirus levels in wastewater preceded the rise and fall in positive test results by four to 10 days.

Their study has yet to be peer-reviewed, but the results, along with those from a study by Yale researchers published in the October issue of Nature Biotechnology, suggest that wastewater monitoring could play an important role in containing the pandemic.

The practice could potentially warn public health officials of increases in infection a week earlier than is possible through clinical test data alone. This means that they could issue health notices or job closings earlier to give these measures a better chance at work.

Had such monitoring been available early in the pandemic, health officials might have recognized earlier that the virus was spreading to communities on both coasts and could have better predict where rescue workers and scarce supplies such as personal protective equipment and ventilators would be needed.

“They want additional information about the severity and location of the virus,” said Ted Smith, associate professor of medicine and director of the Center for Healthy Air, Water and Soil at the Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute at the University of Louisville

Early diagnostic tests were so limited that “our ability to detect the prevalence of the virus was really affected,” said Dr. Smith.


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