One person’s waste is another person’s treasure?

George Donkin 500

George Donkin
Senior Consultant, Assurity Consulting
23rd April 2020

However, this new study claims to have found a direct correlation between rising and falling COVID-19 concentrations in wastewater and the number of local confirmed cases. The key here is that the study detected the changes in concentration before the confirmed cases.

This shows potential as a cheap, non-invasive method of early detection for second wave outbreaks. Although the virus quickly degrades in sewage, scientists can utilise polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing to identify ribonucleic acid from SARS-CoV-2. As sewers are constantly collecting human waste this can offer a real-time view of the number of currently infected persons, regardless of symptoms. Looking at human waste to determine health is nothing new, and in fact a 2018 study carried out in Israel detected a polio outbreak in sewage before any clinical cases were recorded.

This is hugely useful for several reasons, the current testing for the virus ebbs and flows depending on number of cases and, at times where there are many infected persons, the resource and expertise needed to carry out testing can be stretched. Everyone discusses the ‘second wave’ as if likened to a charge over the top from an invisible enemy, but this method may help to detect it. Not only that, but it will help us to confirm that social distancing measures are working and when nothing is detected it might be an early indicator that we can finally wash our hands of COVID-19, forgive the pun!