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Virus Tracking By Wastewater

Trawling through sewage for signs of SARS-CoV-2 could give researchers a sign of when the pandemic is on a downswing, the Los Angeles Times reports.

It notes that scientists have scrambled to get a sense of the scale of the virus's spread, but as Mariana Matus, a co-founder of Biobot Analytics, tells it, everything eventually winds up in wastewater. "With wastewater, you can very quickly get a snapshot of an entire population," she adds. 

She and her colleagues applied this approach to wastewater samples they collected from a Massachusetts treatment facility. As they reported in a preprint posted to MedRxiv earlier this month, they uncovered via RT-qPCR high levels of SARS-CoV-2 in the wastewater between March 18 and 25. Samples from before the first known US COVID-19 case were negative. This suggests, the Biobot Analytics team says, that SARS-CoV-2 can be detected in wastewater.

The LA Times reports other wastewater treatment facilities have since enlisted Biobot Analytics to monitor their sewage and that the company is working on refining its approach to help inform public health decisions.