A consortium led by Bangor University has been awarded nearly half a million pounds for research into monitoring Covid-19 outbreaks using sewage. Dead fragments of the virus’ genetic material can be found in faeces up to two weeks before symptoms appear, meaning mass testing could predict outbreaks before they appear.
“I’m delighted that the ground-breaking environmental monitoring work, which combines different areas of expertise at our College of Environmental Science & Engineering, is to contribute to the nation’s vital work to protect communities against Covid-19 and further outbreaks of coronavirus and other infectious viruses.” said Professor Iwan Davies, Vice-Chancellor of Bangor University.
Bangor University is the leader of the tasked consortium including Cardiff University, Public Health Wales, and Dwr Cymru Welsh Water. This funding is intended to last for the first six months, by which time the programme will be in effect at wastewater treatment plants covering approximately 75% of the Welsh population.
“To halt the spread of the coronavirus we need to measure it within our communities and monitor changes. This pilot programme will allow us to develop an early warning system to provide signals on the levels of coronavirus infections in the community. This will complement our wider public health programmes, including testing.” said Vaughan Gething, Welsh Minister for Health and Social Services.
“Knowledge of how this virus is spreading in the community is a vital part of preventing the spread, particularly as lockdown measures are eased. Wastewater monitoring of Sars-CoV-2 provides an alternative approach. It’s a simple way for us to determine the level of infection in a large community,” said Professor Andrew Weightman, Head of the Organisms and Environment Division at Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences.
“Research suggests people start to shed the virus in faeces up to about two weeks before they get symptoms so this approach can also be used as an early warning system to indicate when levels of the virus are rising in the community. This will help us predict the potential re-emergence of Covid-19 outbreaks – and ultimately help us protect communities across Wales.”
Wastewater testing has previously been used to detect polio, norovirus, and hepatitis. The World Health Organization has stated there is currently no evidence that coronavirus has been transmitted via sewerage systems. The fragments of Covid-19 RNA found in faeces are not infectious, having lost their protective outer layer.