Ontario health researchers testing sewage to pick up early warning signs of COVID-19 infection

Workers in Durham Region are sampling and monitoring wastewater to detect the virus and advise public health about infections in specific areas.
By: Alison Larabie Chase
September 15, 2020
Denina Simmons, one of the lead researchers. Photo: Mike Crawley/CBC.

If you have COVID-19, you’ll be shedding viral particles in your urine and feces before you even know you have it or if you are asymptomatic. Researchers at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa decided to use that fact to potentially create an “early-warning system” for virus outbreaks in Durham Region—by testing wastewater at sewage treatment plants for evidence of COVID-19.

This research may be able to help local public health units allocate testing resources to get a handle on hotspots or detect cases sooner than they otherwise might have done. The equipment being used is quite sensitive and can detect extremely low levels of the virus. Researchers say similar monitoring done at the University of Arizona helped to quickly catch two cases of COVID-19 in a dormitory that might otherwise have spread into a massive outbreak.

The Ontario Tech team is collaborating with other universities around the province to develop their testing methodologies and hopes to be able to pass them on to public health authorities for use across Ontario.

Source: CBC News