Sewage can reveal COVID outbreaks, UK project finds

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FILE PHOTO: An illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depicts the 2019 Novel Coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: An illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depicts the 2019 Novel Coronavirus

LONDON (Reuters) - Traces of COVID-19 can be successfully detected in sewage, helping to give health officials an early warning of local outbreaks of the virus, the British government said on Friday.

A project, originally launched in June, has now proved that fragments of genetic material from the virus can be detected in waste water, indicating if a local community or institution is experiencing a spike in cases.

The government said this would allow health officials to identify large outbreaks especially where there were carriers not displaying any symptoms and to encourage people to get tested or take precautions.

"This is a significant step forward in giving us a clearer idea of infection rates both nationally and locally, particularly in areas where there may be large numbers of people who aren’t showing any symptoms and therefore aren’t seeking tests," Environment Secretary George Eustice said.

The sewage-testing project has been working successfully in southwest England and has now been extended to 90 wastewater sites covering 22% of England, the government said, adding it aimed to expand it in future.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison)