A college student in Arizona has a bowel movement in his dormitory and then goes about his everyday business. Were this a dormitory at most universities, there would be little interest in this young man’s excrement. But Arizona State University is very interested in their students’ stool. They are studying it in an effort to identify outbreaks of COVID 19.
In this case the sewage does come up positive for COVID-19. The students in the dorm are quickly tested and two, including the sample donor are found to be positive for COVID 19 despite their asymptomatic state. They are immediately quarantined and a large outbreak is likely averted.
Sewage or wastewater testing is capable of picking up fragments of COVID that are released from the body in feces. This type of testing can not only inform the public health community of the presence of COVID, it can track the prevalence, monitoring the rate of COVID in the community in close to real time, days before people start to show symptoms.
The increasing application of wastewater testing as well as the approval of cheap rapid testing are both encouraging signs in the battle against the spread of COVID-19.