Wastewater surveillance programme to offer early Covid warning in Cork

Wastewater surveillance programme to offer early Covid warning in Cork

In Cork, levels of the virus will be measured in wastewater across eight different catchment areas namely; Cork city, Ballincollig, Clonakilty, Cork Lower Harbour, Fermoy, Mallow, Midleton, and Youghal.

WASTEWATER is to be monitored at several wastewater catchment areas in Cork as part of a new programme that aims to operate as an early warning system for future possible waves of Covid-19 infection.

A new national wastewater surveillance programme is getting underway this month and is expected to form an important part of the work being undertaken to monitor the prevalence of Covid-19 in communities across Ireland.

The programme has been developed by a specialist team, with input from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), HSE, HIU, the National Virus Reference Laboratory (NVRL), UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, and Irish Water, and will measure the level of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater within 68 wastewater catchment areas across the country.

In Cork, levels of the virus will be measured in wastewater across eight different catchment areas namely; Cork city, Ballincollig, Clonakilty, Cork Lower Harbour, Fermoy, Mallow, Midleton, and Youghal.

Results of the programme will be reported by the project team and communicated by the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre to key organisations including the the National Public Health Emergency Team.

The findings will inform testing strategy and the initiation of preventive public health measures.

Dr John Cuddihy, Director of HPSC, said that by monitoring and analysing SARS-CoV-2 genetic material in wastewater, it will be possible to see increasing SARS-CoV-2 activity in the community.

“Monitoring wastewater for evidence of SARS-CoV-2 is an internationally recognised tool in many Governments’ efforts to assess the rate of infection across the population, both as a whole and within individual communities. Analysis of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material in wastewater captures both symptomatic and asymptomatic people. 

"As such, it helps evaluate how effective specific public health measures are, and can be an important early warning sign of increasing SARS-CoV-2 activity in the community. It can also help inform those locations in which increased and enhanced SARS-CoV-2 testing and preventative measures might be of benefit,” he said.

The roll-out of the programme follows a pilot study involving three wastewater treatment plants which showed a “very close” correlation between the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 genetic material and the daily number of new Covid-19 cases.

Professor Wim Meijer, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, Lead Investigator, said: “The pilot study, funded by SFI and the Ireland Wales Programme 2014 – 2020 through the European Regional Development Fund, involving three wastewater treatment plants showed a very close correlation between the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 genetic material and the daily number of new Covid-19 cases. This demonstrates the usefulness of wastewater surveillance as a SARS-CoV-2 early warning system.”

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