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Tracking the Coronavirus Through Wastewater Testing

Tracking the Coronavirus Through Wastewater Testing

April 22, 2020

Medical Research

The Jerusalem Post — Israel has started analyzing wastewater for the novel coronavirus to estimate the number of infections at a population level, according to Dr. Itay Bar-Or, head of the Health Ministry’s national lab for environmental virology.

If successful, the method could also be used as an early-warning tool to alert the country to a second wave of infection.

The team that includes Prof. Ariel Kushmaro and Ehud Rinnot, from BGU’s Environmental Biotechnology Lab in its Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology and Engineering,  first started testing stool on a small scale in the clinic.

When initial tests showed the virus in the waste, they started collecting sewage.

“If you don’t have a lot of clinical tests [on people], you can use environmental monitoring,” Bar-Or said. “You cannot get an exact number [of those sick], but you can get an approximation of the magnitude of infection.”

The team did multiple tests in the same location, tracking if the virus found in the sewage increased as the number of infected people did – and the numbers correlated.

More worrisome, he said, would be if the numbers did not correlate, which is exactly how he hopes that the testing method will be used.

“If you go to a city with only a small number of known sick people and you see a very strong signal in the sewage, you can say that something is wrong and more tests should be done,” he explains.

Bar-Or notes that this method could be used to test sewage plants specific to senior living facilities, for example. If no trace of the virus is found, the country could assume residents are safe. If the virus is there, then residents and staff could be rapidly screened.

In addition, the method would allow Israel to make more informed decisions about which neighborhoods and cities to lock down – and when to lift their closures.

Read more in The Jerusalem Post >>

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