Recent studies show that 20 percent or more of COVID-19 patients excrete Sars-COV-2 via the stool. Dozens of scientists worldwide, including those at the University of Innsbruck, are now working on a wastewater epidemiological test procedure that will help them to make statements about how the number of infections in the catchment area of a wastewater treatment plant changes.
The big question of the estimated number of people infected with Sars-COV-2 and thus the active spread of the virus is currently occupying various scientific disciplines. A promising way to obtain a comprehensive overview of the spread of the disease is the investigation of wastewater samples. A relevant proportion of infected persons, even those with no or mild symptoms, excrete the virus via the stool, which then enters the wastewater. From the wastewater samples, conclusions about the spread of the infection can be drawn independently of individuals. This wastewater epidemiological approach is now being pursued by the Institute of Microbiology and the Department of Environmental Technology at the University of Innsbruck together with three university spin-offs - BioTreaT, Sinsoma and hydro-IT - and working groups in the Netherlands and the USA. The analysis is based on an adapted PCR method. Cooperation partners from the Netherlands have already been able to detect virus fragments in wastewater using this method. At present, the Innsbruck site is working hard to establish appropriate financing, expand contact with colleagues worldwide and carry out initial sampling and analyses.
The Innsbruck scientists are now trying to achieve reliable results as quickly as possible in two steps:
Step 2 (after approval of the research proposal(s)):
The data generated from wastewater investigations could provide decision support for health authorities who need to determine the timing and severity of public health interventions (contact avoidance, quarantine measures, etc.). The methodology developed should also be used in the future to provide early warning of coronavirus recurrence and help to assess the effectiveness of interventions.