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Saturday, June 22, 2024

COVID-19: Human excrement, key to understanding the virus

By Pamela Cruz. Peninsula 360 Press [P360P].

In an effort to better understand how COVID-19 spreads, researchers from Santa Clara County and Stanford University are looking to human excrement as a source of information to better understand the disease.

This new study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, identifies a method that not only detects the virus in wastewater samples, but also tracks whether infection rates are increasing or decreasing.

And it is that the measurement of sewage is a robust source of data as those infected shed the virus in their feces, which could be used for more responsive monitoring and to supplement critical information from health officials.

According to the report's co-lead author, Alexandria Boehm, who is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, the test works by identifying and measuring genetic material in the form of RNA from SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

 "This work confirms that trends in SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations in wastewater follow trends in new infections in the community. Wastewater data complement clinical trial data and may provide additional information about infections."

Alexandria Boehm

As the U.S. grapples with record daily transmission rates, getting more information to track surges and inform public health policies in local communities remains key to controlling the virus. 

The study notes that COVID-19 can be particularly difficult to track, as many asymptomatic or mild cases go undetected. And those who are tested can still spread the infection before receiving results, inhibiting rapid identification, treatment and isolation to slow the spread. 

So more rapid identification of peak cases could allow local officials to act more quickly before the disease reaches a point where transmission becomes difficult to contain and hospitalizations overwhelm the local health system. 

COVID-19 monitoring through RNA surveillance of sewage is gaining momentum across the country, and could alert decision-makers to potential outbreaks days before people recognize symptoms of the virus.

Of note, the county is working with Stanford University, the San Jose Department of Environmental Services and four wastewater treatment plants to test the waste.

Pamela Cruz
Pamela Cruz
Editor-in-Chief of Peninsula 360 Press. A communicologist by profession, but a journalist and writer by conviction, with more than 10 years of media experience. Specialized in medical and scientific journalism at Harvard and winner of the International Visitors Leadership Program scholarship from the U.S. government.


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