Your Poop Might Be Key For Predicting the End of the Pandemic

Apr 9, 2020

On March 5, there had not yet been a clinical diagnosis of COVID-19 in Amersfoort, a Dutch city of more than 150,000 people to the east of Amsterdam. But underneath Amersfoort's streets, dotted with Medieval buildings, the sewage pipes containing people's fecal matter told another story.

In early March, researchers at KWR, an independent water research institute, detected viral fragments from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in wastewater collected from the nearby wastewater treatment plant. Their findings, published on a preprint server without peer review, indicated that the virus had in fact arrived.

Their work also revealed the promise of wastewater sampling as a public health tool—both to monitor the spread of the current COVID-19 pandemic, as well as detect its reappearance in the future.

In Boston, a company called Biobot, in collaboration with researchers at MIT, just completed a similar study. On Tuesday, they published (also in a preprint paper) the stunning fact that the amount of virus they observed in wastewater was much higher than they expected it to be based on the number of confirmed cases in the Boston area. The amount of virus they saw would suggest that about 5 percent of all fecal samples were positive for the virus, while the reported number of infections was only at .026 percent of the population during the same period. As the researchers told STAT, this amounts to an expected 2,300 people infected around the treatment facility, when there have only been 446 confirmed cases.

Back To Top