Study Shows Covid-19 Can Be Detected In A Single Asymptomatic Person Through Wastewater Surveillance

new study from UC San Diego demonstrates that wastewater surveillance can detect Covid-19 in a single infected, asymptomatic person living or working in a multi-unit dwelling such as a university campus building. Wastewater surveillance can detect a case up to 3 to 4 days before individual testing can. Early detection means that those infected can quickly isolate and if necessary receive treatment, preventing rapid spread of the virus.

Wastewater surveillance is an underused yet cost-effective, non-invasive mass testing strategy that can detect virus shed by symptomatic and asymptomatic people alike. Highly localized wastewater surveillance provides an alternative to contact tracing, an intervention that has been difficult to implement in many countries. With a small enough group, testing everyone potentially exposed is justified and usually acceptable. With highly vulnerable, unvaccinated children returning to classrooms wastewater surveillance could be a valuable tool in keeping them safe.

People infected with SARS-CoV-2, Covid-19, are known to shed in their stool and urine, even if they aren’t experiencing any symptoms. Unlike individual testing, wastewater surveillance paints a broader picture, detecting exactly when new viral variants enter a community, providing valuable data and an early warning to public officials. Time is one of the most valuable modalities of infectious disease control. Wastewater testing can predict new outbreaks with a lead time of one to two weeks. This surveillance can and should be used with other interventions to facilitate a safe return to university campuses, schools, and workplaces

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Originally published on Forbes on August 16, 2021  

© William A. Haseltine, PhD. All Rights Reserved.