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Microbiologists at research institute KWR revealed on Monday that they found RNA gene fragments of the COVID-19 virus in incoming sewage water at the Dutch WWTP. The fragments were discovered before any coronavirus cases were reported indicating the sewage water can serve as an early warning system.
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Professor Rosina Girones, Research Group Leader at the University of Barcelona, and Professor Gertjan Medema, Principle Microbiologist at KWR shared their findings in a webinar.
They revealed that, although it’s unlikely that sewage will become an important route of transmission, the COVID-19, coronavirus is indeed secreted in a person's stools and can be found in sewage water.
“It is important to collect information about the occurrence and fate of this new virus in sewage to understand if there is no risk to sewage workers, but also to determine if sewage surveillance could be used to monitor the circulation of SARS-CoV-2 in our communities,” Medema, wrote in a paper released ahead of peer review.
Early warning system
Detection of the virus in sewage systems could serve as an indication that the virus is emerging, argued Medema.
“That could complement current clinical surveillance, which is limited to COVID-19 patients with the most severe symptoms. Sewage surveillance could also serve as an early warning of (re-)emergence of COVID-19 in cities, much like the sewage surveillance for poliovirus that has been used for this purpose" added Medema.
In the webinar, Medema also revealed that for the time being the limited evidence they have indicates that the virus is not robust in wastewater and it does not pose a threat to sewage workers. His advice was for workers to use standard personal protection.
"We don't think that this is an important waterborne pathogen. We think that the primary routes of transmission are the ones that we have heard about: the air droplets from people that are coughing or sneezing and maybe contaminated surfaces," said Medema.