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Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plan to increase efforts to monitor...

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plan to increase efforts to monitor wastewater for the presence of COVID-19 across the country in the coming weeks. File photo by David McNew/EPA-EFE

Feb. 4 (UPI) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced plans Friday to ramp up monitoring wastewater across the United States for the presence of the virus that causes COVID-19 to spot potential outbreaks.
As of this week, 400 communities across the country are participating in the program, called the National Wastewater Surveillance System, with “hundreds more” expected to come online “in the coming weeks,” officials said.

For the first time, data collected from the system, which launched in September 2020, is available online as part of the CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker, with daily updates, they said.
This system is “providing critical info on COVID-19 trends nationally,” Amy Kirby, program lead for the National Wastewater Surveillance System, said Friday on a call with reporters.

“The data offers public health officials and better idea of COVID-19 trends in their local communities and serves as an early warning system for outbreaks,” she said.

Since its launch, the system has collected and analyzed more than 34,000 wastewater samples, representing 53 million people across the United States, according to Kirby.
It is up and running at 400 sites in 37 states, four cities and two U.S. territories, with 250 more communities expected to be online within the next few weeks, she said.

She was unable to provide estimates as to how many people nationally or what percentage of the U.S. population the system would be able to monitor with the additional sites.
Research suggests 40% to 80% of people with COVID-19 shed the virus in their feces, which makes wastewater monitoring a “valuable tool” for tracking infections as well identify new variants, such as the Omicron strain, Kirby said.
The CDC plans to expand the program to monitor for other infectious pathogens, including antibiotic-resistant bacteria, by the end of the year, she said.

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The system can be used to test treated and untreated sewage to help officials track the spread of COVID-19 and, perhaps, identify cases in people who are not showing symptoms, according to the CDC.
The method could also serve as a tool to determine whether or not containment initiatives, such as social distancing, are working to eradicate the virus from an area, Kirby said.

In most cases, samples are collected using a device called an auto-sampler — though some may be captured manually — and sent to CDC-affiliated testing labs for evaluation, she said.
Environmental microbiologists have used sewage monitoring programs to study pathogenic viruses for decades, most notably as part of efforts to globally eradicate the polio virus.
It can also be used to track consumption of legal and illegal drugs in a given area.
A study published by the research team in 2008 suggests the approach can be used to effectively spot coronaviruses in general — and notes that they die off in wastewater, with a 99.9% reduction in two to three days.
What makes wastewater monitoring so effective is that “it does not rely on healthcare access or access to testing,” Kirby said.
“It will allow us to detect cases [earlier] so hospitals and public health officials can prepare for surges,” she said.


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