A project out of the University of Saskatchewan using wastewater to track COVID-19 in Saskatoon has received federal funding.
Over the next six months it will expand to help some Indigenous communities as well.
The team has been awarded more than $137,000 by the Public Health Agency of Canada to take the project to five Indigenous communities in the province.
USask researchers predicting COVID-19 case numbers using wastewater
Currently, it’s being done in Saskatoon. Samples are taken from the water treatment plant, and researchers analyze it, and can see the spread of COVID-19 through human excrement.
One researcher says they can predict trends five to seven days sooner than testing can.
“We don’t have to worry if someone with the virus has symptoms or doesn’t have symptoms, we’re able to just see the global mixture of that wastewater,” explained Kerry McPhedran, engineering professor with the university.
“That allows us to see if the amount of people that are infected are going up or down over time.”
First Nations workers in Saskatchewan sacrifice wages, vacation to run underfunded water systems
McPhedran said this research can be used as another tool by health officials to track transition and see sooner whether things are getting better or worse.
“From a human perspective, it’s nice to see when the trends are going down, or if they’re going up,” he said.
“You can inform whether or not you want to go skiing that weekend or do things because we try and live more than in the bubbles that we’re in.”
McPhedran added this could also show whether vaccines are working or not and helps as COVID-19 variants show up in a community.
The team is still deciding which Indigenous communities to do testing in over the next six months.
A group representing some tribal councils says one thing they’ll be looking at is whether the virus can be transmitted by eating traditional foods.
Saskatchewan reports no new coronavirus deaths, active cases just over 1,650
“If the virus is there within the lagoons or this water and it leaches into, say the ecosystem, that basically is the potential for cross transition to wildlife and then ingesting it [again],” explained Tim Isnana, executive director of the Indigenous Technical Services Cooperative.
Researchers say they hope to bring some technology to indigenous communities so they can test their water.
They also said in Saskatoon, it plans to post results from the analysis online for people to see once a week.
Coronavirus outbreak: WHO analyzing wastewater to determine COVID-19 circulation globally
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.
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