UVic launching system to test for COVID-19 in wastewater
Civil engineering researcher Heather Buckley holds a container of wastewater samples on the way to the UVic lab for analysis. (UVic Photo Services)
VICTORIA -- The University of Victoria (UVic) is partnering with a private company to monitor for signs of COVID-19 in local wastewater.
According to UVic, the ability to detect COVID-19 in Greater Victoria’s sewage networks can help serve as an early-warning system for the virus, and can help supplement public health data.
Results of wastewater testing can be used to help health authorities respond quickly to potential outbreak clusters in specific communities.
UVic says that COVID-19 can appear in human waste before an individual develops symptoms, or if they are asymptomatic.
The university is partnering on the project with Pani Energy Inc., a company founded by a UVic grads.
“Having this predictive tool will be a real game changer, both in terms of responding to a second wave of COVID-19, as well as to other pathogen outbreaks over the longer term,” said Heather Buckley, a civil engineering researcher and head of the Green Safe Water Lab at UVic, in a release Wednesday.
“Victoria is currently at a near-zero point with COVID-19, so any data we can collect now provides us with a baseline against which we can compare when the virus returns,” she said.
In June, B.C. health officials said they were testing COVID-19 wastewater detection systems in Vancouver and Surrey.
"We have some expertise in assessing water samples for communicable disease and they're working to develop a way to be able to monitor wastewater across the province as an indicator of when the virus may be in our communities," said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry at a daily live coronavirus update on June 23.
Now, UVic and Pani Energy say that they will be sharing any information they collect with relevant health authorities by the end of July.
Researchers on the project say that wastewater testing could potentially be applied to other health projects, like monitoring for other types of pathogens. According to UVic, wastewater monitoring has already been used to test for opioid levels in communities before.
“For centuries, people have been tested individually for infectious diseases,” said Devesh Bharadwaj, CEO of Pani Energy in a release.
“Being able to test their collective waste to provide a supplemental data source for disease surveillance is an emerging field with considerable potential.”
The new wastewater monitoring system will first be used in the Greater Victoria area.