Some creative researchers at Oregon State University have developed a technique that regular Covid-19 virus hunters haven’t thought of yet. But now they’re “on to it.” Researchers have discovered they can track down Covid-19 viruses by back-tracking where they come from. Human fecal waste. The waste, of course, goes down the toilet, is routed through the collection lines and pops out at the local sewer plant. The “best” samples are likely traced up-stream to individual homes and businesses. Researchers say the waste contains the virus even if the “human” isn’t aware of the viral hitch-hiker roaming around his or her body. Researchers target neighborhood hot-spots in an area, whip out their Q-tip swabs and get busy swabbing noses around the neighborhood.
Researchers at OSU call the detection technique CoronaVirus Sewer Surveillance. And the investigative technique has migrated not only to Deschutes County but also Washington County in suburban Portland.
Initial funding and support for the work is provided by the National Science Foundation and Clean Water Services. They say there is no indication that the CoronaVirus can survive as an infectious agent in sewage. But scientists say their chemical signatures do survive and are detectable. OSU’s testing time turn-around is about a week.
OSU researcher and Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering Tyler Radniecki says this new “follow the sewer pipes” technique overcomes the issue of asymptomatic carriers (being infected without knowing it) by detecting the virus in people who show symptoms and people who don’t show symptoms.
Professor Radniecki says, “We can’t put an exact number on how many people are infected but we’re also the bloodhounds who “sniff out” the virus, track its rise and fall in communities, detect priority hotspots and then alert medical researchers and staff who can take it from there with their knowledge, skills and technologies. Radniecki says they’ll seek federal funding so they can more effectively track down the virus in a more cost-effective manner. And hopefully the Congress will provide the money to build an even more refined detection method to stop the virus – ANY VIRUS – before it inundates the whole country.
This week Oregon U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio of Springfield will receive Radneicki’s report and hopefully can motivate his House Committee to provide federal funds to better understand and cut-off viral and bacterial outbreaks before they can kill thousands, if not millions of people, world-wide.