Researchers around the world have been scrambling to find and deploy more accurate and dependable methods of tracking the infection rates in settlements. One of the biggest upsides of having accurate methods to determine such things is that any discrepancy in the numbers could potentially lead to finding loopholes in the policies and their enforcement in countries around the world. Sewage has come out to be the best contender for the single source of information that could provide us with data on the total number of infections in a given community.
The pandemic has put the medical capabilities of even the most developed nations on edge. The single biggest source of concern for epidemiologists is that all the members of any community will never be tested. Then how do you determine the true number of infected people? To solve this problem, researchers took to the sewers in the Netherlands, The United States, Sweden, and France. The expected utility of this methodology is quite optimistic. By studying and testing the sewage water for traces of the Coronavirus, researchers expect to be able to track the virus and even detect it if the infection returns to a community.
Researchers sampled sewage water across Paris for an extended period. The results were surprising. The researchers detected a rise and fall in Coronavirus concentrations that correspond exactly to the outbreak as it was reported from physical tests conducted on patients. Many research groups had previously detected the virus in sewage before, but this is the first time it has been demonstrated that this method could be used to successfully pick up changes in the infection rates before they are even detected at the hospitals and the clinics of the locality.
Researchers are looking into the potential of this method serving as a warning system against future outbreaks. The most short-term use of this could be in predicting the second wave of infections in a community. Sewers serve as an ideal source of real-time data on the outbreak as they are collecting waste material from households in a locality almost constantly. Wastewater treatment plants collect sewage form millions of people; monitoring the virus at these places can provide a much accurate representation of the infection rates.
This is not to say that this method does not have its limitations. The virus degrades very quickly once it has been ejected from the system of the patient. This means that the point of monitoring needs to be as close to target communities as possible. However, the advantage that it provides is much greater. It provides better estimates for how widespread the coronavirus is than testing because sewage testing could account for those that have not been tested and have mild or no symptoms at all. The lack of testing facilities across the globe has made it extremely hard to visualize the scale of this pandemic; however, adopting this methodology could potentially lead to a better grasp of the situation.
The apparent ability of this method of testing in providing warnings of impending outbreaks makes it an interesting and important development that we could all benefit from.