Wastewater testing could provide early warning of COVID-19 spread

Jul 17, 2020

COLUMBIA, Mo. — University of Missouri researchers have turned to an unusual way to track the spread of COVID-19: by looking at feces.

While nasal swab tests continue to be plagued by scarcity, slow turnaround and inaccuracy, Mizzou scientists and state officials hope that testing wastewater for the coronavirus’ genetic signature could give communities a faster way to spot a flare-up in cases.

“Everybody poops, no one can hide it,” said Marc Johnson, a Mizzou professor of molecular microbiology and immunology and one of the lead scientists on the project. “It’s an unbiased measure that doesn’t rely on how many tests you perform. It’s a reality check of where things actually are at.”


Johnson and Chung-ho Lin, a Mizzou research associate professor of forestry, have joined forces with the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Health and Senior Services to test wastewater from 64 sites across the state. They hope the stool test data will help health officials and the public make informed decisions about the virus.

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