- Wastewater surveillance was pioneered during the pandemic to track variants
- The CDC said it could now be used for RSV and flu during the upcoming winter
- READ MORE: How Covid lockdowns opened Pandora’s box of diseases
So-called wastewater surveillance was pioneered during the pandemic to track new variants and gave officials early warning of flare-ups.
Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has proposed using the technique to monitor other seasonal viruses.
Wastewater surveillance has ‘demonstrated benefit as a robust, highly adaptable platform for community-level surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 transmission,’ a report by the CDC said today.
So-called wastewater surveillance was pioneered during the pandemic to track new variants and gave officials early warning of flare-ups
Studying sewage samples was pivotal for finding certain variants of Covid as if even someone had no symptoms, the virus would still be present in their sewage water.
Now that testing for Covid has largely been scrapped, wastewater surveillance is one of the only ways they are tracking the spread of the virus in the US.
In a pilot study during last year’s flu and RSV season, concentrations of the RSV and flu in wastewater samples from three major Wisconsin cities were collected and compared to the number of ER department visits related to the viruses in the area.
Flu and RSV are not universally tested for, so wastewater could be an important early warning sign.
Anybody infected with a virus sheds tiny fragments of its DNA in their poo.
Higher concentrations in sewage was linked to more ER department visits to do with flu and RSV.
Higher concentrations of the viruses in wastewater often preceded ER visits and indicated that a rise was on its way, the CDC said.
This could be used as an effective warning system for ER medical staff of a forthcoming outbreak in the area.
The report said that health officials may want to use sewage samples for the upcoming respiratory season to get a handle on where the virus is spreading more quickly.
Between August 2022 and March 2023, there were 6,271 influenza-associated ED visits and 1,518 RSV-associated ED visits in the cities of Green Bay, Madison and Milwaukee in Wisconsin.
The data showed that in those cities, RSV peaked in early November 2022, and flu peaked roughly one month later.
In April, California County even started testing its sewage for fentanyl to crack down on drug hotspots.
Marin County, north of San Francisco, is also testing sewage water for cocaine, nicotine and methamphetamines — with plans to add xylazine, or ‘tranq’, to the list.
And in January, the CDC started testing sewage from airplanes coming into the US from China, prompted by fears that China’s catastrophic outbreak would spawn a new variant that would spread to the US.