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A Simple Wastewater Test Can Predict COVID-19

Cranfield University research team is working on a new diagnostic test for coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), by analyzing the wastewater of certain communities suspected for COVID-19.  This new wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) approach might specify a quicker and better way to predict the spread of coronavirus in a community. It picks the biomarkers of this new virus from the feces and urinary remains of people living in an area. The wastewater used for this approach is taken from the local sewer system.

Such rapid diagnostic kits are only the paper-based techniques that could be used anywhere especially on the wastewater treatment sites where they could determine the potential threat of COVID-19 in nearby areas.

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Dr. Zhugen Yang teaches Sensor Technology at Cranfield Water Science Institute. He says that; “In the case of asymptomatic infections in the community or when people are not sure whether they are infected or not, real-time community sewage detection through paper analytical devices could determine whether there are COVID-19 carriers in an area to enable rapid screening, quarantine, and prevention.

He further adds; “If COVID-19 can be monitored in a community at an early stage through WBE, effective intervention can be taken as early as possible to restrict the movements of that local population, working to minimize the pathogen spread and threat to public health.”

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Many previous researches show that this novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) can possibly be picked and isolated from the excretory remains of all infected patients. Typically, this virus can survive in the faeces and urinary remains of corona positive patients for many days, after it is excreted from the body. However, it needs appropriate environment for its survival and sewerage pipes and damps are ideal for it.

This test could be performed by using a paper-based device. This paper is folded and unfolded step by step and is used to filter the water. The filter extracts nucleic acids of all pathogens that are present inside the samples taken from wastewater sites.

Once the nucleic acid is released, it is mixed in a preloaded suspension of reagents, which through a biochemical reaction indicates whether or not SARS-CoV-2 is present inside. It doesn’t require a microscope and the results of this test could be seen from the naked eye.

On this device, a green circle shows a positive test; means the SARS-CoV-2 is present in the wastewater sample, and a blue circle is a negative result; means it is not present.

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Dr. Yang commented on this new diagnostic test kit that; “We have already developed a paper device for testing genetic material in wastewater for proof-of-concept, and this provides clear potential to test for infection with adaption,

Upon the price and affordability of the diagnostic kit, he shared that; “This device is cheap (costing less than £1) and will be easy to use for non-experts after further improvement. We foresee that the device will be able to offer a complete and immediate picture of population health once this sensor can be deployed in the near future.”

The wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) approach is helpful in many cases such as to identify the traces of illegal drugs and to isolate and detect certain diseases and their respective pathogens.

Before developing this rapid testing kit for coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), Dr. Yang developed another paper-based device that was used in rapid veterinary diagnostics in India and for diagnosing malaria in some parts of Uganda.

These paper-based devices are easy to use, portable and store because they are lightweight, carry less space and can be transported easily. They are always incinerated after using them hence there is no chance of environmental contamination.

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