Low levels of COVID-19 fragments detected in Orono wastewater could be sign of coming outbreak

Nov 3, 2020

ORONO, Maine — Low levels of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, were found in testing samples of Orono’s wastewater last week, the University of Maine said.

While the weekly testing shows only low levels of virus fragments, any detectable level could be a warning signal of a potential outbreak to come, as people can shed the virus in their stools before developing symptoms.

Increasing levels of virus fragments also can be found in wastewater up to one week before cases begin to rise in a community, UMaine Associate Professor of Microbiology Robert Wheeler, PhD, said.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus has a genome that includes all genes that the virus needs in order to cause disease, he said. When the virus disintegrates, the genome can be broken into fragments.

For that reason, results from wastewater testing don’t indicate if the infectious virus is currently in the wastewater, but rather the presence of virus fragments.

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