Sheffield engineers involved in identifying second wave of Covid-19 - through sewage

Engineers from Sheffield are helping to develop ways of using sewage to locate new infection hotspots and track a second wave of Covid-19.

Thursday, 14th May 2020, 4:32 pm
Updated Thursday, 14th May 2020, 4:42 pm

An international group of waste water experts, including engineers from the University of Sheffield, are researching techniques that could identify the level of infection in a community without the need for testing individuals.

New procedures could identify the virus in waste water and provide a picture of how coronavirus is spreading.

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Vanessa Speight (Pic: University of Sheffield)

The group, brought together by the Water Research Foundation, is developing a range of best practices concerning the use of sewage.

They include collecting and storing waste water samples and using molecular genetics tools to identify levels of Covid-19 in sewage samples.

The group is also developing ways of levels of coronavirus in waste water samples to inform trends and estimates of the spread of the virus and developing strategies to communicate the implications of the results.

Professor Vanessa Speight, from the University of Sheffield's Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, is researching techniques to interpret the data collected from sewage samples.

Her results could help create a more accurate map of how the virus is spreading and show the emergence of a second wave of the pandemic.

She said: “There is great potential for waste water to provide valuable information about the occurrence of Covid-19 across communities.”

On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a new alert system to monitor the threat posed by coronavirus could eventually identify local flare-ups if Covid-19 is detected in the waste water from a local area.

The PM's spokesman said: “Some studies have been carried out overseas on this and I think it is something we are looking at as a possible way of seeing if you could track the rate of infections locally.”

While there is no evidence of the live virus being found in sewage or that the virus has been spread through sewerage systems, one study from the Netherlands found viral genetic material in waste water samples several weeks before the first case was detected.