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Sewage could provide clues to presence of coronavirus

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on April 27, 2020 Published on April 27, 2020

Experts developing testing protocol to detect presence of virus in communities

A team of experts with the COVIDActionCollab (CAC) is developing a protocol to test sewage for Covid-19 traces in what they feel could be a simple, non-invasive method of community surveillance for the coronavirus, as per the CAC’s official release.

A group of experts and agencies from various disciplines of wastewater treatment, microbiologists, virologists, sanitation, public health communities, communications, including the National Institute of Urban Affairs got together to explore a more feasible and efficient way to test for the presence of Covid in the communities.

COVIDActionCollab has brought together nearly 150 experts and organizations in India to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This kind of a pioneering endeavor requires a multi-disciplinary approach,” says Dr Angela Chaudhuri, Health Strategy Partner in the Catalyst Group.

According to experts, COVID-19 patients shed the virus through their stools and urine. Sensitive laboratory tests can detect traces of the coronavirus in sewage even with high levels of dilution. The experts with the CAC are developing a method of collecting and testing samples in a way that helps identify localities where traces are found, that can help authorities to identify these areas.

This protocol will adapt methods developed in Europe, the US, and Australia for Indian conditions. This is of significance in densely populated urban areas and factory clusters where testing individuals is extremely challenging, experts mentioned in a joint statement.

“By mapping collection areas, it will be possible to narrow down where people infected with the virus live and follow it up with identification through clinical tests, quarantine, and treatment measures,” said Dr Angela Chaudhuri.

“If Covid-19 traces are found, they must follow it up with clinical testing to identify and treat those infected,” said Sandeepan Choudhury, a Kolkata based Water Sector Consultant from STUP Consultants.

“This sewage testing based approach is used routinely in the US to monitor community-wide use of illicit drugs, tobacco, and alcohol in the densely populated boroughs of NYC, but we are working to adapt this technology for assessing community-wide health, specifically in terms of Covid-19 prevalence,” said Dr. Paramita Basu, an antimicrobial resistance researcher and Associate Professor of Biomedical Sciences in the Clinical Doctor of Pharmacy program at Touro College of Pharmacy in NewYork.

The COVIDActionCollab is developing a sewage testing method for Covid-19 in selected densely-populated urban residential areas of Kolkata and Bangalore. It will also extend testing to factory clusters in these neighborhoods. Urban local bodies in these cities like Municipal Corporations, Directorate General of Health Services, and line departments would find this immensely useful. Officials concerned have been approached for an early pilot.

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Published on April 27, 2020
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