Scientists have detected RNA from the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, in the feces of people with COVID-19. So it stands to reason that the viral RNA could end up in city sewage, where it could be used to monitor prevalence of the disease. Now, researchers reporting in ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology Letters have detected rising SARS-CoV-2 RNA levels in sewage from several cities in the Netherlands at early stages of the pandemic.
Although infectious SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in stool samples, the virus spreads primarily through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, laughs, speaks or breathes, according to recent studies. However, if the new coronavirus is present at high levels in sewage at treatment plants, it could pose risks to workers at the facilities. Gertjan Medema and colleagues wanted to see if they could detect SARS-CoV-2 in the domestic wastewater of cities in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Netherlands. They also wanted to determine if levels of the virus’s RNA correlated with the COVID-19 prevalence in each city. If so, sewage surveillance could be a helpful tool to monitor the circulation of SARS-CoV-2 in communities, especially since clinical testing likely underestimates the actual number of people infected with the virus.
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