Wastewater testing: A tool to help slow down COVID-19

By Beverly Bartlett, Building Kentucky

Even as the first doses of vaccine reach Kentucky, public health officials are continuing to fine-tune approaches to monitoring the spread of the disease.

Wastewater testing allows public health officials to monitor for COVID-19 without orchestrating repeated, regular testing of large populations.

This is an especially effective technique for prisons, nursing homes, college dorms and other places where many people live in the same building, according to Ted Smith, an associate professor of medicine and director of the Center for Healthy Air, Water and Soil at the University of Louisville Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute.  If the virus is present in the wastewater, the building in the affected facility can be tested.

Wastewater collection at the University of Louisville.

Wastewater collection at the University of Louisville.

Smith was featured in a New York Times Magazine story that looked at the advantages of testing wastewater for COVID and other infectious diseases. Testing of wastewater in Israel helped stop an outbreak of polio in 2013-2014, according to the article.

It will be months before the vaccine is readily available for most people, so having the ability to monitor outbreaks will continue to be important here in Kentucky and other parts of the world.

Both University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky are included in a dashboard of 140 universities that are participating in wastewater monitoring research.

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