Study suggests wastewater surveillance can pre-empt COVID-19 outbreaks – including in aged care

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A new study from CSIRO and the University of Queensland has provided more evidence that untreated sewage testing can detect COVID-19 weeks before people show symptoms.

The results suggest targeted waste water testing could create an early detection system to help prevent any mass outbreaks which could be a critical tool for the aged care industry.

The retrospective study looked back at wastewater samples that had been collected in Brisbane from February and early March 2020.

Researchers found the archived samples showed the genetic fingerprint of the virus up to three weeks before the first COVID-19 cases were publicly recorded in the area.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said wastewater testing is one of the critical science-driven tools that can help open up borders to drive Australia’s recovery and reduce future disruption.

“It’s a true Team Australia approach when states can stay open by targeting their response to contain the disease, saving whole regions from have to shut down,” Dr Marshall said.

CSIRO lead author Dr Warish Ahmed (pictured above) said wastewater testing was gaining international recognition as an important tool in the pandemic response.

“When integrated into disease surveillance and monitoring systems, wastewater monitoring may assist management efforts to identify hotspots,” Dr Ahmed said.