Here’s how we can avert the next pandemic

Researchers believe that analysing the wastewater, can prove to be an effective way to keep a track of different infections entering human environment. A deadly contagious virus like the novel coronavirus could be tapped before turning into an epidemic if we conduct detailed study at water treatment units. These units, where water gets treated, can record if there is any surge in infections or discover a unique virus which traveled into waste water system through human urine or faeces.

According to Gertjan Medema, a microbiologist at KWR Water Research Institute in Nieuwegein, the Netherlands one treatment plant has a capacity to collect wastewater from over one million people. Prof. Medema said that observing the infection levels in our drainage system could help us get a better idea about the scale of the issue. Prof. Medema in her paper, “Presence of SARS-Coronavirus-2 in sewage” highlighted, “ The detection of the virus in sewage, even when the COVID-19 incidence is low, indicates that sewage surveillance could be a sensitive tool to monitor the circulation of the virus in the population.” He added that in the current scenarios ‘health authorities are only seeing the tip of the iceberg’.

WHO experts have anticipated that coronavirus virus could become a seasonal infection, emerging every winter. Hence it becomes imperative to look for more sophisticated means of surveillance like waste water testing which gives us a heads up and buys us time to pull our guards up against the deadly contagion.

According to Tamar Kohn, an environmental virologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, virus like SARS-CoV-2 can be traced in faeces within three days of infection, which is far less than the time the virus takes to show its symptoms in people and turn severe enough for them to be taken to hospital, which usually takes 2 weeks. She said, “Seven to ten days can make a lot of difference in the severity of this outbreak.”

Unfortunately, due to the corona-led lockdown not much research is happening in monitoring the presence of virus in sewage systems. The work by universities and laboratories have been put on hold to make most of the limited reagents used for conducting tests. Kyle Bibby, an environmental engineer at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, who was working on similar project, said, “We don’t want to contribute to the global shortage.”

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