Sewage Monitoring Provides Early Warning for CCP Virus Outbreaks

April 16, 2020 Updated: April 16, 2020

Australian scientists have discovered that sewage can be used as an early warning system in efforts to contain the spread of the CCP virus in the community.

After wading through Australia’s sewage system, two independent research teams have reported finding in wastewater the presence of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus.

This might make it possible to detect the presence of the virus in particular locales even before tests on individuals are conducted.

On April 16, researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) announced that they had detected traces of SARS-CoV2 in Queensland sewage plants.

Led by Kevin Thomas, the director of UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences, the teams found RNA fragments of SARS-CoV2 in wastewater samples from two sewage plants that service the state’s capital city, Brisbane, and the surrounding region.

The SARS-CoV2 fragments are believed to have been released into the wastewater stream by infected people.

In a statement, Thomas said wastewater is already used to monitor the spread of other diseases in the community. The project was built on work done by research groups in the Netherlands and the United States.

“This is a major development that enables surveillance of the spread of the virus through Australian communities,” he said.

CSIRO Land and Water Science Director Paul Bertsch said a timely deliverance of COVID-19 wastewater surveillance data is important in strengthening Australian’s response system as a whole.

“These data will be particularly useful for catchments with vulnerable populations where testing using other methods may not be feasible.

“An early warning detection system like this would also be incredibly useful for monitoring and response in the recovery phase,” he said.

ACT Research

A similar project was announced on April 14 by the Australian National University (ANU) that will monitor the sewage systems in the territory in order to examine transmission outside of patient testing and hospital reporting. That project will be launched in late April.

“This detection is an additional measure to find the trigger points that community transmission has stopped,” said Aparna Lal who is leading the project at ANU’s National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health.

In a statement released on April 14, she stressed that Australian sewage systems were not a source of COVID-19 transmission.

“There is no evidence that the virus is spread through sewage,” she said.

Both teams are keen to share their knowledge and methods to develop a national collaboration.