McGill university professor and researcher Dominic Frigon is eager to collect what you are eager to discard: some of the province’s sewage.
“This is what we keep and that is now precious because here we have our COVID virus,” said Frigon as he showed a small vial containing a white, frozen liquid.
Frigon is part of a group of researchers across Quebec testing wastewater samples in order to track in the province the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for causing COVID-19.
“From the wastewater, we actually have an early warning about what’s happening on the territory,” Frigon explained.
Traces of the virus can be found in wastewater because humans who carry it shed it in their feces.
The research started with Frigon and Prof. Sarah Dorner from Polytechnique Montreal’s Department of Civil, Geological and Mining Engineering.
They began analyzing samples in February 2020. Now, other scientists across Canada have joined in.
They say wastewater can help track the spread of the disease even to specific neighborhoods.
“If there’s a part of the city that has long term care homes and hospitals -we could see: are there increases in those areas? Do we need to send more resources?” Dorner told Global News.
Sewage analysis can also help detect the presence of new strains of the virus such as the variant first discovered in the United Kingdom.
“The main question right now around Canada is: it’s here, what concentration is it in the population, is it increasing, is it increasing as fast as in the U.K.?” said Frigon.
Frigon says another advantage of this research is it can detect early signs of a potential outbreak: up to a week ahead than swab test results can.
“It’s a rapid way to know with policies, if the policies are helping or not in terms of controlling the pandemic,” Frigon explained.
The researchers are collaborating with Quebec’s Public Health Institute (INSPQ).
The institute says the study’s findings are an extra tool that can help inform their decisions, for example on screening or prevention measures.