‘Sewer sludge’ detects virus outbreaks a week faster than contact tracing, study finds

Researchers at Yale University found that testing “sewer sludge” in wastewater for coronavirus could detect an outbreak more than a week earlier than traditional contact tracing.

In the study, published last week in the journal Nature Biotechnology, researchers began taking daily samples from a New Haven-area wastewater treatment plant, which serves multiple towns in Connecticut including New Haven, East Haven, Hamden and parts of Woodbridge.

The study’s results, which span 10 weeks from March 19 to June 1, found that testing sewers for Covid-19 — collecting samples from the “primary sewage sludge” of settled solids — produces transmission trends that are “very similar” to those of contact tracing, but come about “six to eight” days earlier.

University Of Arizona Wastewater Testing Halts Potential Covid-19 Cases At Dorm (Cheney Orr / Bloomberg via Getty Images file)University Of Arizona Wastewater Testing Halts Potential Covid-19 Cases At Dorm (Cheney Orr / Bloomberg via Getty Images file)
University Of Arizona Wastewater Testing Halts Potential Covid-19 Cases At Dorm (Cheney Orr / Bloomberg via Getty Images file)

Wastewater testing is exactly as it sounds — and it isn’t anything new.

The science

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