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Nova Scotia researchers studying sewer samples to detect COVID-19, support Public Health

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WATCH: Dalhousie University researchers have begun collecting human wastewater samples across Nova Scotia in a project that could help detect the presence of the virus that causes COVID-19 well before it can spread – Jan 12, 2021

Researchers in Nova Scotia have begun collecting human waste water samples at sites across the province in an ambitious project that could help detect the presence of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 well before it can spread.

Dalhousie University is leading the initiative intended to develop a wastewater surveillance approach for the virus throughout Nova Scotia that could ultimately support Public Health in its decision making.

Read more: COVID-19 detected in Wolfville, N.S., wastewater in experimental research

The director of the Centre for Water Resources at Dalhousie University, Dr. Graham Gagnon, said they’ve expanded to involve partner universities, such as Acadia and Cape Breton University, to monitor and look into where priority areas for testing may be.

He said in the beginning the province wanted the team to be prepared to set up in locations known for its university populations, especially back in December when students would be leaving for the Christmas holiday and coming back.

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The airport authority has also been a strategic interest for the province, so in both cases researchers have been been taking a sample from a sewer close to these locations in order to detect the virus in the wastewater.

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Coronavirus: N.S. reports 1 new COVID-19 case, makes testing mandatory for rotational workers – Jan 12, 2021

“Obviously, in other jurisdictions where the virus has been more prevalent, wastewater testing has been used as sort of a tracking system. And obviously in Nova Scotia, we hope to not see high prevalence, but really use it as a confirmation tool, if if you will,” said Gangnon.

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He said it’s a bit challenging to find the best water sample because it’s about trying to get as specific as possible to a location.

“Because water is flowing in many directions, sometimes we would just have a broad sense of where it is and the location,” Gangnon said.

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He said this may trigger other decisions within public health to do other types of testing or just be informative in general, but at this point, the testing would cover just an area or at best a building.

“We wouldn’t try to get down to an individual level.”