Ontario researchers looking at human waste to detect new coronavirus hotspots

Sep 9 2020, 1:13 pm

It’s a crazy idea, but the next time you flush the toilet, your waste could be contributing to important science to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

According to Ontario Tech University, researchers are testing untreated sewage samples weekly from multiple water pollution control plants in Durham Region. The aim is to check for traces of the virus and develop a model for identifying new coronavirus hotspots in the area.

The researchers are with Ontario Tech University’s Faculty of Science and are working with Durham Region Health Department, Durham Region Works Department and other partners to detect an anticipated second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tracked information will be shared with Durham Region Health Department officials to help determine appropriate steps to limit or prevent further infection in the community.

“The capacity for targeted wastewater sampling near local long-term care homes, for instance, means there will be an early warning system in place for vulnerable populations. The sampling protocol and models will be made available for use by other communities across Canada,” the release states.

Ontario Tech University biological science expert Dr. Andrea Kirkwood — part of Canadian Water Network’s COVID-19 Wastewater Coalition — will lead the sample testing with her Faculty of Science research colleagues Dr. Denina Simmons and chemistry expert Dr. Jean-Paul Desaulniers.

According to the university, the development “of state-of-the-art tools for early detection of viruses in wastewater can indicate the severity of infection in a community, mitigating and reducing infection spread.”

The research is expected to last for up to a year.

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