Monitoring sewage for high concentrations of coronavirus genetic material might help officials predict new outbreaks up to seven days early, new research suggests.
Scientists have recently confirmed that while spit and mucus from coughs and sneezes are the main ways that coronavirus is transmitted, humans also 'shed' the virus in feces.
Yale University scientists have been carefully studying a waste treatment facility in New Haven, Connecticut for signs of the virus for about a month-and-a-half.
The found spikes in levels of genetic material in sewage preceded similar increases in positive coronavirus tests in the area as well as upticks in hospitalizations.
As the US begins to reopen, poop monitoring programs might help cities prepare for resurgences of the virus that many public health experts worry are all but inevitable as people emerge from isolation and come into contact with one another.
Levels of coronavirus genes in sewage (pictured) peaked three days before hospitalizations and a week before cases of the disease did in New Haven, Connecticut, suggesting that sewage may help predict emerging outbreaks (file)
Between March 19 and May 20, the Yale researchers tested samples of sludge from a treatment facility in New Haven that processes wastewater for about 200,000 residents of the city.
Simultaneously, they tracked how hospital admissions and positive tests in the city went up or down each day.
They're the latest in a series of research groups in the US and abroad to look to sewage as a metric for coronavirus outbreaks.
Efforts to track case, hospitalization and death increases and declines in cities and states are crucial, especially as localities begin to reopen.
The continued spread of coronavirus is all but certain, but if there are marked surges in these counts, they will serve as a warning sign that a larger outbreak may be in progress, triggering lockdowns to resume so that hospitals don't get overwhelmed.
But the US has struggled to keep up with case increases especially, due to