How Wastewater Could Help Track the Spread of the New Coronavirus

May 15, 2020


SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, typically enters a person through the eyes, nose or mouth. But once it’s established itself in the airway, the pathogen doesn’t always stay in the respiratory system.


Recent evidence suggests that the new coronavirus may able to spread to sites throughout the body, such as the intestines. The virus could then use the gut as a jumping-off point to enter some patient’s feces, where researchers have detected its genetic footprint.

But as researchers race to find answers, the SARS-CoV-2’s fecal signature could actually turn out to be a weapon to wield against COVID-19, helping track how and where disease is spreading. By analyzing bits of the virus’ genetic material in sewage, scientists may be able to identify the populations most at risk of infection—and most in need of lockdown—without painstakingly sampling every person, especially while individual tests remain in short supply.

Not everyone can get a diagnostic test. But everyone poops.

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