Sewage could help identify Covid-19 hotspots in SA

Published May 22, 2020


DURBAN – The Covid-19 pandemic has had the world stumped and scrabbling for answers. South Africa is currently searching for traces of the virus in human sewage. The hope is to track Covid-19 cases as well as to identify Covid-19 hotspot areas in communities.

On Wednesday, the Water Research Commission (WRC) introduced a national surveillance programme to monitor South Africa’s sewage system for traces of the virus that may have entered the sewers from infected patients. This programme could help health officials isolate outbreaks within a community without any delay. However, the programme’s limitations are the availability of Covid-19 test kits and the backlog of testing and results at labs.

Professor Angela Mathee, head of Medical Research Council’s Environment and Health Unit said: "In light of the lack of capacity and human testing and training, it is important to explore all tools that could offer cost-effective support to combat the spread of Covid-19”.

South Africa would not be the first country to look into testing its sewers for Covid-19, the United Kingdom is also interested in researching human sewage for traces of Covid-19 infections in communities. A team consisting of the Water Research Foundation and engineers from the University of Sheffield would be collecting storing and sampling sewage water as well as using molecular genetic tools to identify the levels of the Covid-19 virus in these samples.

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