Yale study shows wastewater predicts number of coronavirus cases

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NEW HAVEN – Sewage can help us get through the coronavirus pandemic, or at least tell us if COVID-19 will peak again in the New Haven area.

Researchers from Yale University and the Connecticut Agricultural Experimentation Station analyzed solid waste from the east coast water pollution reduction facility between March 19 and May 1 and found found the amount of coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, correlated with test totals and hospitalizations.

“It was essentially a seven-day leading indicator for testing,” said Douglas Brackney, associate scientist at the experimental station’s Department of Environmental Sciences and co-author of the study. He said the amount of virus found in the stool was correlated to hospitalizations three days later.

“I guess as the tests have increased they will likely be less than seven,” he said on Wednesday.

“The hope is that it can be used as a surveillance method,” said Brackney. “Many people fear that there will be a second wave … once these restrictions on social distancing are lifted. … We can constantly test sewage sludge. “

According to the newspaper, published on medRxiv.org, “our study could have important political implications. Courts may use the concentrations of SARS-CoV-2 in primary sludge to anticipate the dynamics of community epidemics or provide an additional basis for easing restrictions, particularly when clinical trials are limited. “

Jordan Peccia, professor of environmental engineering at the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and co-author of the article, said the tests are cost-effective and can be useful in tracking the spread of the virus.

Virus RNA is extracted by first concentrating the sludge. “Next, you need to effectively open, extract and extract viral RNA in very small quantities – about 51 millionths of a liter. And then there is an enzymatic process to amplify the sample. The process takes time, ”said Peccia.

Peccia said he and his team hoped to eventually expand the project and extend it to other parts of the state. But there is a practical obstacle on the way: research funds are difficult to find. But he and his team still believe that this additional testing method is necessary.

“We would think of this as something that increases the testing programs and public health measures already in place,” said Peccia. “The tests, of course, are really important. An individual must know whether he is sick or not. This is a fundamentally important thing. … But I think we can get some valuable additional information from the wastewater analyzes. “

“Obviously, if you take that away from other catchment areas, you can cover the whole state fairly easily,” said Brackney. “Personally, I think it would be a very smart thing for governments to adopt.”

Dr. Thomas Balcezak, clinical director at Yale New Haven Health and Yale School of Medicine, said the researchers had not heard of any cases of stool-transmitted COVID-19.

“I don’t think it has any implications for transmission. I think it has implications for how we might look and investigate across the country on the burden of coronaviruses in our communities, “Balcezak said Wednesday at a weekly online press conference. “By sampling this and then using it to go back if there is a certain concentration in the wastewater, what would be the percentage of this population that would be infected?

“It is a curious study and I think it is interesting, but I do not think it is a source of concern [for] our workers in the sewage treatment plants and I don’t think that is a source of concern as a mode of transmission, ”he said.

The sewage treatment plant, located on the east side of New Haven harbor, collects wastewater from New Haven, East Haven, Hamden and Woodbridge. About 40 million gallons of wastewater is treated at the plant per day.


Mary O’Leary and Ben Lambert contributed to this story. [email protected]; 203-680-9382

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