Collaborative studies by CSIRO and The University of Queensland in early 2020 provided proof that wastewater surveillance could detect COVID-19 prevalence in a community.
Ongoing research has refined the application of this science, providing evidence that wastewater (untreated sewage) testing can help inform local public health responses. This can occur as early as infected people begin shedding the virus in faeces, whether or not they show symptoms that prompt clinical testing.
The technique has now been adopted by many jurisdictions developing operational responses to COVID outbreaks, allowing public health professionals to target specific areas for public health interventions and/or gathering information regarding the circulation of the virus in a community.
CSIRO and UQ have been supporting Queensland Health with their wastewater surveillance program since July 2020, testing sewage for traces of the COVID-19 virus in dozens of locations across Queensland to enhance their response to the pandemic.
Wastewater monitoring helps disease surveillance and monitoring by identifying hotspots and allowing targeted localised public health responses, such as increased individual testing, setting up fever clinics, and providing health warnings.
The analysis involves tracking genetic fragments of the COVID-19 virus which are flushed into the wastewater system through infected people's faeces.
In collaboration with Qantas, the team has also successfully demonstrated the approach for detecting infections within international travellers.
Media releases and blogs
- Australian researchers trace sewage for early warning COVID-19 spread
- Chasing COVID-19: CSIRO scientists find fast, cheaper way to find outbreaks in our wastewater
- Australian researchers track COVID-19 in wastewater from plane and cruise ship passengers
- Wastewater flushes out Covid-19 cases weeks before people show symptoms
- 17 Apr, 2020 blog- New stool in the COVID-19 pipes
- 11 Sep, 2020 blog- Sewage testing for COVID-19? What’s that all about?
- 16 Oct, 2020 blog- Meet Dr Warish Ahmed, one of our COVID-19 researchers
- 22 Feb, 2021 blog- What does a positive wastewater test result mean?