The ultimate goal is to install these coronavirus early warning systems in almost all sewage treatment plants in order to track the spread of Covid-19.
Microbiologist Hauk Hams, one of the heads of the study, said: “This will be the first test line.” “You should start with our measurements and then you will know where to look for the cause. Usually this It ’s a hospital, or I do n’t know, it ’s a factory where you have an outbreak. Then you have to test people. ”
The concept seems simple: the sewage contains viruses remaining in human feces. If these concentrations suddenly increase, the wastewater treatment plant will find and remind the authorities to take action and begin targeted testing of the area.
Participants in this study are sewage treatment plants in the German city of Leipzig, which can serve 100,000 to 600,000 people.
Dr. Ulrich Meyer, Technical Director, said: “If it is possible to know the coronavirus concentration in the wastewater, we can calculate the number of infected Leipzig, which will be very interesting in the coronavirus strategy.” Leipzig’s water plant.
But in reality, it is not that simple. In the main sewage treatment plant in Leipzig, wastewater is collected every 24 minutes and sampled every two minutes.
Scientists in Helmholtz admitted that finding small amounts of genetic material (or RNA) from viruses in a huge river of waste is a difficult task.
The project’s virologist Rene Kallies said: “We have a lot of wastewater, and it is a challenge to find traces of the virus in the wastewater.” “So we have liters, and we have to shrink it to microliters to get enough RNA. The amount of extraction is the challenge. ”
However, scientists say they can find a surge of Covid traces in one day and send the information to local authorities.
Scientists say that another challenge is that the number of new infections in Germany is very small, which makes the discovery of the virus more difficult, and means that an infected person may skew the test results.
Hams said: “For example, you may have heard of these super spreaders, and there are also super excretors. People excrete more viruses than others, which of course makes you misunderstand the number of infected people.”
Germany is cited as an example of successfully defending the country from the worst viruses. As of last Friday, it reported more than 182,000 Covid-19 cases, with approximately 8,400 deaths, significantly lower than other European countries.
Tracking viruses in feces is nothing new, and German researchers are not the only ones trying to use sewage as an alarm system. In February this year, scientists at the Dutch KWR Water Research Institute discovered the virus in six sewage treatment plants in the country, one of which served Schiphol International Airport. KWR said it has developed a method to monitor the presence of viruses in wastewater, and said that testing wastewater has obvious benefits.
KWR said on its website: “Testing an individual requires a separate test, and testing sewage can show early pollution in the entire population.”
German researchers believe that testing wastewater will be a factor in a series of measures to detect disease outbreaks.
But they admit that there are still some problems that need to be solved, although they say they believe the system will be put into use in the second half of 2020 in order to contain the possible second outbreak of coronavirus in time.
Hams said: “I think we can provide something before the next wave.” This refers to work detection systems that can be used by states and sewage treatment systems. “So if the next wave is around autumn or early winter, then we should have something.”