Looking for early warning signs of a COVID-19 outbreak on a university campus? Check the sewers.
U of G researchers aim to test waste water to detect levels of the SARS-CoV-2 virus – released in human feces – from student residences. Detecting higher levels of the virus in the sewer system may help prevent outbreaks on university campuses, says food science professor Lawrence Goodridge.
He’s working on the project with other U of G researchers and scientists at Laval University and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
“We appear to be the first in Canada to test a campus residence and use the data to try to make the campus safer.”
Previous research shows that the virus appears in waste water roughly a week before it shows up in a population, says Goodridge, director of the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety at U of G.
“If we find evidence of the virus in waste water, it’s an indication that there is potentially a problem coming up. With that information, we can then take steps to take early action against that potential problem.”
Engineering professor Ed McBean and student research assistants are now taking waste water samples at East Residence.
By identifying the virus in communities, says McBean, the research could help target individual testing more efficiently.
It could also reinforce public health practices from mask-wearing to handwashing, says Goodridge. “We appear to be the first in Canada to test a campus residence and use the data to try to make the campus safer.”