Sewage from planes is a key Covid tracking tool, reports say, as CDC talks to airlines about wastewater testing


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is talking to airlines about. The possibility of testing for the coronavirus in sewage from airplanes, the federal agency told NBC News.

Starting in September 2021, CDC is testing international travelers. For Covid via nasal swabs on a volunteer basis. The program now includes seven major airports. Expanding that surveillance to include wastewater could allow the CDC. To collect more data on emerging variants.

The United States has been monitoring coronavirus in wastewater since the CDC launched. Its National Wastewater Surveillance System. In September 2020. Yet, these tests mainly involve household or building wastewater. Not airport or airplane samples.

“CDC is exploring all options to help slow the introduction of new variants from other countries into the United States. Previous Covid-19 wastewater surveillance has been shown to be a valuable tool. And plane wastewater surveillance may be an option,” CDC press officer Scott Pauley told NBC News.

Reuters first reported that the agency was considering testing the aircraft’s wastewater.

A study published Thursday in the journal PLOS Global Public Health shows. How this approach can work: A team of researchers from Bangor University. In Wales found that the coronavirus is widely spread in sewage airport. And airplane wastewater in the UK, even for unvaccinated passengers who require Covid testing.

These results state that plain wastewater sampling can detect other viruses or bacteria. As well as pick up asymptomatic or presymptomatic infections missed by covid tests.

“The more information you have, the more accurate decisions you can make. Aaid Kata Farkas, one of the study’s authors and a postdoctoral research fellow. At Bangor University. “I believe wastewater-based surveillance is a really good tool to support any public health decision.”

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering. And Medicine released Thursday reached the same conclusion. It suggested that wastewater monitoring could provide critical information. About existing or emerging pathogens, and it also offered a vision. For how the existing system could be expanded and operated going forward.

As of October, more than 1,250 sites across the U.S. are conducting wastewater testing. But most counties still lack the funding, capacity or willingness to sample their sewage. So according to the report, a more robust system should screen.

For multiple pathogens at once and include sampling sites. In underdeveloped areas and specific outposts such as sports venues, zoos or large airports.

Wastewater testing can provide different information depending on where the sample is collected. For example, individuals from airports, dormitories, or long-term care facilities. May provide more granular insights than broad, community-wide testing.

“If you have a new variant that’s coming in and you have a wastewater sample, it’s going. To be more concentrated coming out of a small sewer. Shed or an airport,” said Sandra McLellan, professor of freshwater science at the University of Wisconsin. Milwaukee, who was not involved in either report. “If you look at municipal wastewater, you can miss it.”

Zach Wu, a wastewater control inspector, examines sewage samples sent. To a lab to analyze the presence of the coronavirus in Oakland, Calif., on July 14, 2020. Paul Chinn/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Although individual plane samples are unlikely to represent population-level trends. They offer a distinct advantage, according to Heather Bischel. Associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. At the University of California, Davis: Scientists can identify a pathogen in a specific geographic area. original

“Having this kind of information about our ports of entry would certainly give. Early warning of where a new spread might occur,” said Bischel, who was not involved in the report.

Farkas said he believes testing sewage from long international flights would. Be most effective, since more passengers are likely to use the plane’s toilets. But he also said there could be legal and political hurdles when taking samples directly from aircraft.

“Some countries will consider the plane to be their own territory, and if you want. To take something from it, you’re essentially stealing. From another country, to put it bluntly,” Farkas said.

For their new study, Farkas and his team analyzed wastewater samples from three UK airports – Heathrow, Edinburgh. And Bristol – over three weeks in March 2022. Thirty-two samples came from airplane. While another 150 came from sewers near airport terminals or wastewater. Treatment plant associated with Edinburgh Airport.

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