January 25, 2021

Researchers: Sewage plant tests can show COVID-19 spikes days before traditional testing in some communities

University researchers in Kentucky say samples taken from wastewater treatment plants can detect surges of COVID-19 days before spikes of the virus showed up in traditional testing.

In a research project conducted in a partnership between public health experts and university researchers, samples removed from the Mayfield. Kentucky, wastewater treatment plant are being tested in laboratories at Murray State University.

MSU researchers told western Kentucky public radio the testing has revealed potential virus hotspots in the county days ahead of the traditional clinical and testing models.

The virus from infected persons regardless of whether they exhibit symptoms has been detected in the wastewater, the researchers said, demonstrating that the wastewater analysis is effective even if COVID-positive individuals are asymptomatic.

MSU officials said wastewater testing can serve as an early warning system for virus outbreaks, allowing public health officials to respond to specific hotspots before they show up in clinical tests.

The project is a collaboration between the Graves County Health Department, Mayfield Electric and Water Systems, Murray State University, the University of Louisville Co-Immunity Project, and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.