Czech researchers testing wastewater for new coronavirus

Photo: Martina Klímová, Czech Radio

Czech researchers have started looking for traces of the coronavirus in wastewater. A laboratory in Brno is currently testing samples from two dozen wastewater plants around the Czech Republic. The monitoring could be used to reveal the scale of a coronavirus outbreak and also as an early warning of fresh outbreaks.

Photo: Martina Klímová,  Czech Radio

Věra Očenášková,  photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio
Analysing wastewater is one way of tracking infectious diseases that are excreted by people in urine or faeces, including the new coronavirus, which causes the Covid-19 disease. Researchers around the world are currently tracing the SARS-Cov-2 virus in wastewater. Studies have already confirmed its presence in the Netherlands, the United States and Austria.

Here in the Czech Republic, the monitoring was launched by the Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk Water Research Institute in Brno in the second half of April. Věra Očenášková, who is a member of the research team, outlines its potential benefits.

“The monitoring can be useful for detecting the presence of the virus in the population. It has been shown that around 50 percent of the population who have Covid-19 have traces of SARS-Cov-2 in their excrements, which then enter the wastewater system, where it can be detected.

Illustrative photo: Fernando Zhiminaicela,  Pixabay / CC0
“The coronavirus is excreted by people who don’t yet show any of the typical symptoms of the disease, so it can actually be detected before the disease is confirmed. That’s why it could be used as an early warning of an approaching outbreak of the disease.”

Researchers are taking samples at twenty wastewater plants around the Czech Republic, which serve more than 700,000 people, to get as wide a picture as possible about the scale of the coronavirus outbreak. Věra Očenášková outlines more details of the monitoring:

“We take samples of untreated waste water which have been collected at the plant over the past 24 hours and transport them to our laboratory for analysis.

“We are cooperating with the Veterinary Research Institute in Brno, who are using the RT-PCR method for detecting the presence of viruses in wastewater. They isolate and conserve the virus and then determine its presence in the samples.”

Věra Očenášková,  photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio
The research is expected to take six weeks and the results should be assessed by the end of May. However, preliminary results of the monitoring reveal that around ten percent of the samples show some traces of the coronavirus.

Věra Očenášková stresses that the presence of the virus in wastewater presents no danger of infection to the general population.

“There is no way for ordinary people to get in contact with wastewater. Moreover, we only identify the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA, which confirms the presence of the virus, but doesn’t reveal whether it is alive or not, so there is really no need to worry.

“According to the World Health Organisation, the health risks from wastewater are minimal and there is no reason to worry about getting infected from this source.”