An early warning system for coronavirus infections could be found in your toilet

May 4, 2020

David Hirschberg has a simple explanation for why a growing number of scientists are looking to sewage to help track the spread of the novel coronavirus in communities around the world.

“S--- is a great source of information,” said Hirschberg, founder of a nonprofit biotech firm and professor at the University of Washington at Tacoma. “This is the kind of early warning system you want to have. When people start showing up at hospitals and start dying, that’s not the indicator you want to have. That’s too late.”

Researchers say the virus can be detected in untreated wastewater within days of infection and as much as two weeks before a person grows ill enough to seek medical care — that is, if symptoms ever materialize at all.


Hirschberg and his colleagues, who have been monitoring raw wastewater coming into treatment plants in Tacoma and surrounding Pierce County for evidence of the virus over the past month, are among researchers in the United States, Europe, Australia and elsewhere who say the approach allows a glimpse at the curve of probable infections before confirmed cases begin to rise.

Back To Top