Posted: Sat 20th Jun 2020

Project looking for signs of Covid-19 in sewage which could identify future virus hotspots backed by Welsh Government

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Saturday, Jun 20th, 2020

A pilot programme which will flag early signs of the coronavirus in Welsh communities by monitoring sewage systems, has been awarded almost half a million pounds.

The Welsh Government has awarded the funding to a consortium led by Bangor University, working with Cardiff University, Public Health Wales and Dwr Cymru Welsh Water.

The frequent monitoring of coronavirus levels at wastewater treatment plants can offer a signal of the infection rate in the community and provide early sign that coronavirus is present.

Health minister Vaughan Gething, said: “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.

The funding provides the opportunity to build upon existing strengths and partnerships that we have in Wales in environmental sciences, disease surveillance and pathogen genomics. I’m pleased to be working with partners from across Wales.”

The consortium will develop a monitoring programme that can measure the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in wastewater.

The virus appears in faeces within three days of infection, which is much sooner than the time taken for people to develop symptoms severe enough for them to be hospitalised.

It can take up to two weeks from the time someone is infected to the time they receive a diagnosis.

Prior to a rise in cases around the north east Wales area, it was reported there were high levels of coronavirus found in wastewater. 

Professor Iwan Davies, Bangor University Vice-Chancellor commented:

“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.”

For the past three months, experts have been using a test called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to find traces of SARS-CoV-2 in untreated wastewater.

They believe this could form a valuable part of disease surveillance.

The pilot programme will be funded for an initial six months, sampling will begin almost immediately in a small number of water treatment plants, rapidly expanding to up to 20 treatment plants that cover approximately 75% of the Welsh population.

Whilst monitoring for Coronavirus the systems established will also be able to determine whether other types of respiratory viruses are also present, which will help public health monitoring.

Steve Wilson, Welsh Water’s Managing Director of Wastewater services, said: “We are very pleased to be part of this pilot programme which will play such a crucial role in helping to identify the presence of coronavirus in an area in future. 

This will build on the successful partnership we already have with Bangor University on the research they undertook into the presence of traces of the virus in wastewater. This will also build on the strong working relationship we already have with Cardiff University.”

The World Health Organization is clear there is currently no evidence that coronavirus has been transmitted via sewerage systems.

 

 

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