Loma Linda Sniffs Out Innovative New Way To Track COVID

16 April 2021 | Testing sewage for COVID-19 exposure may not be every research assistant’s dream assignment but it seems to be yielding results for Loma Linda University School of Public Health.

According to a recent news story from LLUH, Ryan Sinclair, PhD, a professor in the School of Public Health, is harnessing Wastewater Based Epidemiology (WBE) as a way to monitor COVID exposure on campus.

“Wastewater monitoring has been used historically to track enteric viruses and other pathogens including the poliovirus vaccine and wildtype strains, norovirus, and others and drugs such as opioids but at generally smaller scales,” said the LLUH news release.

Turns out it works for detecting COVID-19 outbreaks as well. In fact, the WBE method has been proven as a way to get 4-10 days’ warning against COVID outbreaks.

Sinclair can use the method to identify a single infected person among hundreds of dorm residents. The professor and his team have been taking wastewater samples at two sites on campus since September 2020. They also work with a wastewater treatment plant in the nearby city of San Bernardino where they take weekly samples.

“The RNA from COVID-19 can be detected in feces early in the infection before clinical symptoms. This makes wastewater a perfect tool to monitor potential infections in buildings on campus,” said Sinclair, according to the report. “We are tracking COVID-19 RNA signals in dorms and other buildings on campus. We have been monitoring the wastewater since September 2020 and now have a system where the wastewater can be part of our overall multi-layered COVID-19 response.”

The testing uses what’s called Reverse Transcriptase quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT qPCR.)

“We can test for COVID-19 in the wastewater on campus and other pathogens if we are interested,” said Sinclair. “Several other pathogens can be monitored in this way. I have used this to detect Listeria, Campylobacter, Salmonella in communities within Fresno County.”

Stock image.

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