University of Portsmouth scientist believes human waste is key to identifying coronavirus hotspots

WHILE the government has launched its new hi-tech track and trace initiative to target coronavirus outbreaks a scientist from the city’s university has identified his own alternative tracking system – human waste.

Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 11:45 am

With the virus having already been detected in the faeces of coronavirus patients in the Netherlands, USA, France and Australia, Dr Pattanathu Rahman, a microbiologist at the University of Portsmouth, believes monitoring sewage could hold the key to identifying Covid-19 hotspots which need intervention.

A team led by Dr Rahman is advocating the study of sewage filtering systems to identify the presence of the virus.

Dr Rahman said: ‘Despite the advancements being made in medicine and research, it is proving difficult to contain this virus. It’s highly likely that the virus survives in wastewater, so we looked at using nanofiber filters as a wastewater pre-treatment routine and the upgrade of existing wastewater evaluation and treatment systems to serve as a surveillance tool.

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Dr Pattanathu Rahman from the University of Portsmouth believes testing sewage could be used to identify coronavirus hotspots.

‘It’s nearly impossible to test every individual in a pandemic, so it’s critical we locate the hotspots of the disease and begin isolation and treatment from there.’

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The strategy has previously been used to track and help eliminate viruses including poliovirus and aichivirus.

However, being able to monitor effectively depends on a range of factors, including sanitary and climatic conditions, rainfall and filters. While the method would not identify individuals with coronavirus it could be used to identify locations where there is a high prevalence rate.

Dr Rahman added: ‘Water treatment systems play a significant role in public health protection. Treated wastewater has a wide range of uses from drinking water, to being used for irrigation and food production.

‘There is significant risk the virus can be transmitted through sewage and it’s possible slimy bacteria that forms a thin coat over sewage pipelines could help spread of the virus.’

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