Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Can Your Poop Really Help in the Fight Against Covid-19?
by Justin Dubs
We’re all aware of the current state of the world. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage on.
Now there is a new variant that is even more transmissible than the original strain!
And we all continue to exist in our new normal. Staying indoors and social distancing from one another.
In these unprecedented times, people are looking for an end to this. Hoping that soon we can all be together again in some kind of normalcy.
Scientists are working around the clock to come up with some sort of solution to our COVID-19 problem.
It seems that we’re finally breaking new ground. The recent approval and distribution of the vaccine gives new hope.
But while the general public waits its turn for the vaccine, how do we best keep each other safe?
There is one promising method of monitoring how COVID-19 spreads. National Wastewater Surveillance System.
The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and Oregon State University are working together to collect samples of wastewater for the program. This project allows them to detect COVID-19 in community wastewater.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is helping to fund the project. Any interested state can take advantage of the project.
The project tests wastewater and looks for any trace amounts of COVID-19. If there is any amount found in the samples then they deem the community to have the virus.
This testing method is also useful in testing for Polio and other Enteroviruses— which is where the idea came from.
Tests are able to determine that the virus is present if they detect any RNA from SARS-CoV-2.
But what does this information tell us?
The OHA is able to use this information to determine if there is a possibility of future outbreaks in the community. When the virus is detected, OHA updates the Oregon SARS-CoV-2 Wastewater monitoring dashboard.
There are 29 communities within the dashboard that Oregon is monitoring with weekly testing.
The dashboard indicates affected communities by saying “Detected” for the week. If no virus is seen (or it is under the threshold) then the dashboard indicates “Not Detected”. A blank space indicates no test.
This dashboard works primarily as an early warning system for a possible coronavirus outbreak. Samples of the wastewater are able to detect the virus well before cases are confirmed via testing. It also shows the virus prior to infected people showing symptoms.
Oregon is using this data to track the movement of the virus throughout the state. Helping to determine where an outbreak may occur. Also giving them a heads up for where an increase in resources is needed.
According to the CDC both symptomatic and asymptomatic cases of the virus are detectable in the wastewater. Collection of data for both types of infection is possible because of this. A more accurate assessment of the virus in the community is possible as well.
The best part is that wastewater surveillance is not dependent on people’s behavior— hich is why it’s so effective. It does not rely on people self-reporting or going to the hospital. You just test the community’s water.
The tests are performed weekly in order to monitor the trend of Covid’s effect on the community.
What the Heck is Wastewater?
So by now you’re probably tired of seeing the word wastewater. But what is it exactly? Wastewater is what it sounds like, waste. Its makeup is primarily human waste, bathwater, laundry water, and food prep water. It’s pretty much any water that comes out of your house.
All of these ingredients combine in the sewer and are sent to the sewage treatment plant.
Now here is the interesting part. People infected with Covid-19 shed little bits of the virus in their feces. This is how the virus enters the sewage system and is detectable by testing the water.
The surveillance program tests this water prior to it reaching the plant. This is most effective because they do not treat the water before it enters the plant.
Treatment of the water would destroy any living virus. This makes testing treated water unproductive for this cause.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Can I get the coronavirus from someone’s poop?
Luckily, the CDC states that so far there are no known cases of the virus that originate this way!
So you shouldn’t worry too much if you happen to come in contact with any.
Limitations of Wastewater Testing
Currently there are a few limitations in the wastewater surveillance program. As of now most states in the program are only testing a small number of communities. Many of these communities are smaller towns and cities.
The major limitation is that the total number of infected is not determinable based on this data. To find the total number of infected requires individual testing of possible infected people.
The wastewater surveillance program is a brand new strategy that is still in development. The CDC offers guidelines to use when implementing this program at the state or local level. They do stress that public health actions and interventions should not be based solely off of this data.
It is also important to understand that this method is only viable with untreated wastewater. This means that any treatment plants that receive pretreated waste are not able to do this testing.
This testing is also unable to be used for homes with a septic system. The testing would be inefficient and ineffective in monitoring community spread.
How Can we Continue to Stay Safe?
Now I know it may seem that this pandemic will be endless. I assure you that is not the case.
We will make it through this!
The vaccine is currently being given to frontline workers and the elderly. Pfizer and Moderna continue to ramp up production. Soon they will be able to distribute to the general public.
In the meantime we need to come together (figuratively) and stay diligent.
The best way for us to move forward is to continue to follow the safety guidelines set forth by the CDC.
Remember to WEAR YOUR MASK! Your mask is extremely important. It is your best weapon in the fight against COVID.
Your mask is meant to be a barrier between you and anyone you may come in contact with.
Please be mindful and respectful of other people and wear your mask.
Avoid large gatherings and social distance from each other— meaning keep six feet apart.
I know it might be daunting to hear these guidelines all the time. But they’re effective if everyone abides by them.
With the help of the wastewater surveillance public health service it will be easier to track the virus. Which will make our communities safer.
By working together we can rise up and beat this virus. We can truly make the world a better place
Oh, and don’t forget to wash your hands!
How Can You Support the Ocean Blue Project?
While continuing to do your part in protecting yourself and others from the virus, how can you continue to support the Ocean Blue Project?
Well there are a few ways to do so.
You should take advantage of the Ocean Blue Project Blog page. This page is full of valuable information. Not only can you read about current events, but you can educate yourself on how to better support the environment and our ocean saving organization.
You can sign up and stay up to date with the newsletter. This is a great way to learn how your contributions are making an impact. And to learn about our community clean up programs and how you can volunteer to host a clean up.
You can also create an impact by making a donation. All you have to do is visit Ocean Blue Project and click “Donate Now”.
Author Bio: Justin Dubs is a Pittsburgh-based writer and avid outdoorsman.