Researchers at McMaster University are ramping up a wastewater testing program designed to quickly detect and track COVID-19 in raw sewage which could serve as an early warning sign for current outbreaks and future pandemics.
While existing clinical tests can identify affected individuals with precision, researchers say wastewater testing is a cost-efficient and quick means to identify the virus and can be narrowed down to identify specific neighborhoods and communities.
“We know COVID-19 can be reliably detected in feces of affected individuals including those with mild to no symptoms, which is an area where clinical tests fall short,” says Gail Krantzberg, a professor at the W. Booth School of Engineering Practice and Technology, who is working with colleague and wastewater expert Zobia Jawed on the research project.
“A broad wastewater testing system allows us to constantly monitor, test and accurately report on the spread of disease within communities, which would include nursing homes, schools and universities, to address the crucial need not only for the current pandemic but for future outbreaks,” she says.
With support from the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP), researchers plan to test samples three times a week and report results within 24 hours to public health agencies in a number of municipalities which include the City of Hamilton, Niagara Region, Haldimand County, Norfolk County and Oxford County. Several universities across Ontario are working with the province on the program.