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Coronavirus pandemic | Researchers exploring sewage sample tests to detect COVID-19 cases

By conducting sewage sample tests, the experts would be able to map collection areas to narrow down on clusters where infected people live

April 28, 2020 / 12:44 PM IST
Representative image

Representative image

In a bid to adopt a method that would help conduct community surveillance for COVID-19 cases in a non-invasive way, a team of experts from the COVID Action Collab (CAC) is exploring ways to treat sewage water to detect traces of the pathogen.

In its official release, the CAC has informed that it has brought more than 150 experts from different walks of life under one roof to explore the feasibility of this method of community testing and ways to contain novel coronavirus spread in general.

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A Business Standard report states that the 150-member team includes wastewater treatment experts, sanitation experts, public health experts, microbiologists, virologists, and members of the National Institute of Urban Affairs. Commenting on the need to include experts from various disciplines, Dr Angela Chaudhuri, Health Strategy Partner, Catalyst Group, said: “This kind of a pioneering endeavour requires a multi-disciplinary approach.”

Experts believe that the metabolic waste of COVID-19 patients contain traces of the virus, which can be detected through special laboratory tests, even if the sample is collected from sewage in extremely diluted form. Building on this thought, the CAC team is trying to device a way to collect stool and urine sample of entire localities to find out if any infected person is residing there so that the authorities can take action accordingly.


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A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

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This will also help in early detection and subsequently prevent further spread of the deadly virus. It will also help greatly in densely populated urban clusters, ghettos, etc, where it becomes extremely difficult to test the swab sample of every individual.

To build a protocol for this method of community testing, the CAC team will study methods developed by countries in Europe, the United States, and Australia, and adapt them into something more suitable for India.

Dr Chaudhuri opined that by conducting sewage sample tests, the experts would be able to map collection areas to narrow down on clusters where infected people live. After this, health workers can come and collect individual samples and carry out clinical tests to identify infected persons.

Dr Paramita Basu, researcher and professor at the Clinical Doctor of Pharmacy program, Touro College of Pharmacy, New York, said sewage tests are conducted frequently by the US to identify areas where residents abuse illegal drugs, alcohol, etc.

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first published: Apr 28, 2020 12:44 pm
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