11 Jan. 2022 15:27
According to Canadian researchers, Omikron was identified in the sewage of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia as early as November 2021. A few weeks before the variant was reported in South Africa. According to the researchers, wastewater is an effective early warning system.
New data from researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, shows that Omikron was found in sewage weeks before it was officially identified in Nova Scotia Province – and even before the new variant of the virus was reported in South Africa. The Canadian newspaper reports National Post.
Graham Gagnon, professor and director of the Center for Water Resource Studies, confirmed this to the National Post in an email:
“Our team detected Omikron retrospectively in sewage from Nova Scotia in mid-November and will be able to provide further information in the future.”
The first case of Omikron in Nova Scotia was officially confirmed on December 13, 2021, just weeks after the first case was reported in South Africa on November 24, 2021.
Gagnon’s team has been studying wastewater from four major sewage treatment plants in Nova Scotia since December 2020. They also examined the wastewater from the student dormitories on the Dalhousie campus. These type of tests will become an important tool in tracking the spread of the coronavirus in the coming months as access to PCR tests becomes more limited across the country, said Mark Servos, a professor and researcher in the field of biology at the University of Waterloo. His laboratory is currently studying wastewater in the Peel, York, and Waterloo regions of Ontario. Servos for the investigations:
“If Omikron keeps running, it will rise or fall in the wastewater and that will help us inform our decision makers.”
Currently, in Ontario, PCR testing is only available to symptomatic high-risk individuals and those working in high-risk environments. That means it will be more difficult to get an accurate picture of who has COVID-19, especially because Omikron is so easily transmissible, Servos said.
In the sewage area, Servos was able to determine how quickly each variant prevailed in the province:
“It took Alpha a few months to catch on, Delta took a month and a half, and Omikron nearly two weeks.”
In Alberta, where PCR testing is also limited, researchers are monitoring wastewater across the province for the spread of the virus and its variants. Casey Hubert, an associate professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Calgary and a director of a wastewater monitoring project in Calgary, said wastewater tests could tell researchers what was happening as early as a week before reporting:
“The wastewater is really providing some kind of early warning signal that precedes the number of cases.”
Alberta residents can use a dashboard set up by Hubert’s team to monitor the levels of viruses in wastewater across the province. This is a helpful tool, according to Hubert, because the fewer tests that are done, the less accurate the information about how many people could have the virus.
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