The future of disease tracking is going down the drain — literally. Flushed with success over detecting coronavirus in wastewater, and even specific variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, researchers are now eyeing our collective poop to monitor a wide variety of health threats, Report informs, citing Science News.
Before the pandemic, wastewater surveillance was a smaller field, primarily focused on testing for drugs or mapping microbial ecosystems. But these researchers were tracking specific health threats in specific places — opioids in parts of Arizona, polio in Israel — and hadn’t quite realized the potential for national or global public health.
The pandemic triggered an “incredible acceleration” of wastewater science, says Adam Gushgari, an environmental engineer who before 2020 worked on testing wastewater for opioids. He now develops a range of wastewater surveillance projects for Eurofins Scientific, a global laboratory testing and research company headquartered in Luxembourg.
Hundreds of wastewater treatment plants across the United States are now part of COVID-19 testing programs, sending their data to the National Wastewater Surveillance System, or NWSS, a monitoring program launched in fall 2020 by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Wastewater surveillance will have health impacts “far broader than COVID,” predicts Amy Kirby, a health scientist at the CDC who leads NWSS.