You Can Now See How Much COVID-19 Virus Is In Your Community’s Wastewater

Feb 7, 2022

Keeping ahead of the COVID-19 virus is one of the best ways to ultimately put the pandemic behind us. And the past two years have shown that we need every tool at our disposal to track cases and predict, as much as possible, when and where surges might occur.

One method—tracking the virus shed by infected people through analyzing wastewater—has emerged as a promising way to accomplish that. Anywhere from 40% to 80% of people infected with COVID-19 shed viral genetic material in their feces; studies have shown that monitoring wastewater for signs of SARS-CoV-2 can be an early indicator of when cases are climbing, or even if a new variant is starting to dominate. Genetic sequencing of wastewater samples can show signs of virus days before testing results can, since people often don’t get tested until they experience symptoms. Wastewater is a beneficial source of information because it passively captures so much data, says Amy Kirby, program lead for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS).

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