UK project detects Covid-19 traces in sewage

Traces of coronavirus have been detected in sewage in a UK government-led project, providing an early warning to health professionals for outbreaks in local areas or institutions across the country.

The project’s results can provide local health professionals with a clearer picture of infection rates by identifying where there are high numbers, particularly for asymptomatic carriers and before people start showing symptoms, , officials said.

The project has worked successfully in an area in south-west England, where sewage sampling data showed a spike in coronavirus material despite relatively low numbers of people seeking tests. The results alerted local health professionals and people warned of a spike.

Testing has now been rolled out across more than 90 wastewater treatment sites in the UK, covering approximately 22% of the population in England, with plans to expand in the future, the officials added.

Environment secretary George Eustice said: “This is a significant step forward in giving us a clearer idea of infection rates both nationally and locally, particularly in areas where there may be large numbers of people who aren’t showing any symptoms and therefore aren’t seeking tests.”

In another project, officials said the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control identified coronavirus material in London sewage in February, before any cases were recorded in the area, providing further evidence of the effectiveness of wastewater monitoring to detect infection rates.

High levels of virus material were detected in March and April followed by a considerable decrease in May and June, reflecting the impact of national lockdown measures on virus transmission.

According to the World Health Organization, the likelihood of coronavirus being transmitted via sewage systems is extremely low or negligible, the officials added.

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