In Focus    |    01.2021

Sewage secretions surrender COVID-19 secrets

COVID-19 testers are known for poking swabs up noses and down throats. But now, they are delving deep into sewers to find the early signs of a potential outbreak.

Northumbrian Water in the UK is collaborating with scientists from Newcastle University to find the early signs of coronavirus presence in human wastewater. Early detection of the virus could help scientists to identify communities at risk of a minor – or even major – cluster of COVID-19 cases.

Early in the pandemic, scientists realised that those infected with COVID-19 released evidence of it in their faeces. Those faeces enter sewage systems and reveal the secrets of the population to those brave enough to collect samples and take them back to the lab. Illicit drugs, hormones (say, from birth control pills), and legal pharmaceuticals all occur at detectable levels in wastewater, and treatment centres aim to remove them from circulation before clean water is released back to the environment.

But now, COVID-19 is giving up its secrets via sewage. Scientists from the University are part of a broader project led by the independent UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. They are working with Northumbrian Water to refine techniques to provide more specificity in their results. By moving upstream in sewage supply, they can narrow down a source of viral contamination in the water. While it is not currently thought the virus can occur in levels high enough to spread through water, the RNA sequencing of detected samples can give analysts data about the virus. As testing improves, it could eventually give information about specific strains of coronavirus.

This could, in turn, allow comparison with strains of coronavirus found in local patients, providing more understanding of transmission vectors. Wastewater analysis alone wouldn’t result in a community being placed in a quarantine situation but could suggest where government officials should focus the testing of individual patients.

Faeces enter sewage systems and reveal the secrets of the population to those brave enough to collect samples and take them back to the lab.

The techniques being developed by the Newcastle academics could have wider application. Wastewater-based epidemiology is a recognised and developing field. The University scientists are also working on tests for norovirus and other detectable viruses and bacteria.

Their efforts are being watched around the world as humanity continues to grapple with the COVID-19 killer. Any help in understanding the spread of this deadly disease is welcome and Northumbrian Water is working hand in hand with world-class scientific academics to shed light on solutions – even if they come out of the dark of the sewers.

Copied to clipboard
Downloading PDF. Please wait...

Superdrug’s super nurses head for the coronavirus pandemic front lines

Superdrug’s nurses are taking on the toughest COVID-19 has to offer by volunteering to serve on their nation’s front lines, fighting the disease.

COVID-19 containment: Watsons Water makes a mask-making miracle machine

Team Watsons Water got creative and worked round the clock to deliver life-saving PPE to Hongkongers.

LKSF delivers the sword and shield to medical professionals

The Li Ka Shing Foundation sprang into action early in the coronavirus pandemic to provide desperately needed personal protective equipment to medical staff.

Energised education at HK Electric Institute

High-performance management at HK Electric is supercharged through education delivered by a host of internal and external professors at the HK Electric Institute.

Passion for learning: A.S. Watson Group Retail Academy

The high-pressure crucible of Hong Kong’s shopping environment seems like it would leave little room for learning among retail professionals. But A.S. Watson’s commitment to higher performance creates opportunities for promising staff to elevate their game at its very own Retail Academy.

Grants from LKSF foster strategic, system-wide advances in knowledge

Tactical donations make a difference to help tackle one, or even several, problems. But a series of strategic donations will bolster the entire biological, bioengineering and biomedical establishment in Hong Kong with world-class platforms and integrative thinking.

Disappearing bees? 5G Bee-o-meter to the rescue

Vanishing bee populations are a major problem for global agriculture. 3 Austria’s 5G network is a key part of a tech solution that puts beekeepers ‘inside’ their hives to solve problems for Man’s invaluable helpers.

5G Ports: 2,000 tonnes of power from your desk

Port of Felixstowe’s 5G plans not only put the power of massive dockside cranes in the delicate digits of desk-driving derrick directors, but also connect a legion of sensors to help train AI that could save Hutchison Ports millions of pounds in maintenance efficiency.

5G connects Hong Kong to the world and the universe

5G is a platform to build dreams on and 3 Hong Kong is helping dreamers to climb on board. It works with small businesses and the community to help them overcome COVID-19 challenges and to unite their artistic vision, with an eye on the stars.

Port of Felixstowe’s hydrogen revolution drives UK’s net zero goals

The Port of Felixstowe is leading the hydrogen revolution building in the UK. It aims to transform not only its own operations but the regional eco-economy too. First, the Port – then trains, trucks and homes will follow.

Eversholt Rail is empowering a completely carbon-free UK railway

The UK aims to decarbonise the entire rail network. Eversholt Rail, a UK rail company, is leading the way in providing zero-emission hydrogen-powered trains for the UK. Trainspotting is about to get a whole lot greener.

Do Believe the HyPe: AGIG is replacing natural gas with hydrogen

Australian Gas Infrastructure Group is proving itself a public ally by greening the gas supply of Australian homes and taking the first steps to deliver 100% emission-free hydrogen to replace gas.