Testing sewage in Australian suburbs would be a cheap and easy way for health authorities to pin down localised outbreaks of coronavirus, the national science agency says.
The CSIRO has published new research after testing different methods of analysing wastewater to find the most cost-effective, rapid and accurate system.
It says scientific techniques have been refined so that the presence of COVID-19 carriers in the community can be identified regardless of whether they show symptoms.
The new research builds on the world’s first peer-reviewed proof-of-concept trial run in Brisbane by CSIRO and The University of Queensland which tested untreated sewage and found fragments of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Wastewater monitoring could save billions world-wide, being significantly cheaper and faster than clinical screening for COVID-19, but would be used as an added diagnostic measure.
CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said that as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease, science has found a way to help individual communities avoid a second wave of the pandemic.
“This unique monitoring breakthrough will ensure each suburb gets the medical support it needs so all of us, as a nation, can stay healthier,” Dr Marshall said.
CSIRO researcher Dr Warish Ahmed, who led the findings, says the agency will keep refining concentration and detection methods to provide more sensitive results.
“This will provide information on the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community so public health officials can have as much information as possible to manage an outbreak in a timely manner.”
The results will be shared with a new global scientific collaboration, which brings together more than 50 experts in water-based epidemiology to share testing methods and data on wastewater-based disease surveillance.
The CSIRO says drinking water is very well protected against all viruses, including the new coronavirus.