UAA researchers look for signs of COVID-19 in wastewater

Researchers at UAA are detecting COVID in Anchorage wastewater.
Researchers at UAA are detecting COVID in Anchorage wastewater.(KTUU)
Published: Sep. 17, 2020 at 9:05 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Every day, millions of gallons of wastewater from Anchorage residents enter the municipal treatment plant at Point Woronzof. And every week, for the last few months, workers have been taking a small sample of untreated wastewater and sending it to researchers at the University of Alaska Anchorage to check for signs of COVID-19.

UAA Associate Professor Brandon Briggs is part of a university team that developed the process to isolate tiny fragments of the virus in fecal matter.

“Before people are symptomatic they are shedding the virus into the wastewater,” said Briggs. “So it’s a way for us to actually determine if there is the virus in that particular community before people start showing symptoms.”

Briggs said the wastewater test can’t pinpoint individuals with the virus, but it can give communities an early warning that it’s there. That news can spur them to begin large scale testing of individuals in an effort to stop the virus before it spreads.

In the same way, Briggs said, wastewater testing can show when virus levels are dropping and clear a community when they are gone entirely.

Professor Aaron Dotson, who is heading the project, said the State of Alaska provided funds to help UAA researchers develop the process, but individual communities who want to use it will now have to secure funding. He said the university has contracts with several communities.

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