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Calgary’s wastewater to be tested for traces of COVID-19 virus

Click to play video: 'How waste water could provide clues for COVID-19 research' How waste water could provide clues for COVID-19 research
WATCH: How waste water could provide clues for COVID-19 research (June 27) – Jun 27, 2020

The City of Calgary is teaming up with the University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services to test the city’s wastewater for early signs of COVID-19.

Researchers will be analyzing wastewater from local treatment plants as well as samples from within the wastewater collection system to find areas where active cases of COVID-19 are beginning to appear.

Read more: Alberta Health releases more detailed guidance on cohorts, how to form them

In a Friday news release from the U of C, Dr. Casey Hubert said detecting clusters of COVID-19 infection in the population is critical to avoid future outbreaks.

“Our objective is to identify hot spots by looking for high concentrations of traces of the virus in wastewater in neighbourhoods,” Hubert said. “Results will be shared with health officials to inform how they focus their resources.

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“It’s a complementary strategy of looking in the wastewater for evidence of infection, instead of putting all the burden on the medical system.”

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While researchers can find traces of the virus in the wastewater, officials say wastewater does not transmit it.

Read more: Alberta to allow expanded cohorts in Stage 2: How it works and what’s involved

“The virus that causes COVID-19 is excreted in the feces of those who are pre-symptomatic, asymptomatic, as well as those with overt symptoms,” Dr. Michael Parkins from the Cumming School of Medicine explained. “This will potentially allow us to identify cases before they’re clinically evident.”

The team has received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to start the research immediately.

How does it work?

Wastewater is a mix of liquids and solids that have gone down your sink, bathtubs and toilets, flowing into shared sewer pipes.

According to the U of C, the samples will be processed by Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets (ACWA) before going to the U of C’s geomicrobiology and clinical microbiology labs.

Read more: Alberta investing $10M for targeted COVID-19 antibody testing

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Lab teams will then analyze the sample for traces of the virus’ genetic material.

In later phases of the project, officials say AHS will advise the group of communities of concern so that wastewater testing can be deployed in those areas.

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