Coronavirus traces found at wastewater plant
Fragments of coronavirus have been detected at Luggage Point wastewater treatment plant in a breakthrough scientists say will help track the spread of the disease around the country.
The technology could prove vital in working out where infection hot spots are and give a better indication of the number of infected people.
But the University of Queensland and CSIRO scientists stressed that there was no safety risk from tap water.
Only small genetic fragments of SARS-CoV2 (the COVID-19 virus) were found, not intact or living virus particles.
A proof of concept test was conducted last week using technology called polymerase chain reaction, which massively amplifies the amount of genetic material in a sample so tiny traces can be analysed.
After detecting fragments of RNA, the virus' genetic material, they used sequencing technology to confirm the fragments actually came from coronavirus.
Director of UQ's Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences, Professor Kevin Thomas, said the method built on work by research groups in the Netherlands and the United States of America.
"This is a major development that enables surveillance of the spread of the virus through Australian communities," Professor Thomas said.
CSIRO Chief Executive, Larry Marshall, said the testing will help Australia manage COVID-19.
"The hope is eventually we will be able to not just detect the geographic regions where COVID-19 is present, but the approximate number of people infected - without testing every individual in a location,'' Dr Marshall said.
"This will give the public a better sense of how well we are containing this pandemic."
CSIRO Land and Water Science Director, Paul Bertsch, said the data would be particularly useful for catchments with vulnerable populations where testing using other methods may not be feasible.
"An early warning detection system like this would also be incredibly useful for monitoring and response in the recovery phase," Dr Bertsch said.
Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, said the pilot research was extremely encouraging and had the potential to strengthen Australia's response to the pandemic.
"A national program based on this work could add to the broader suite of measures our Government can use in the identification and containment of COVID-19," he said.
Originally published as Coronavirus traces found at wastewater plant