A comprehensive testing program has found no traces of SARS-CoV-2 inCanberra’s sewage system.

The testing program, carried out by experts from The Australian NationalUniversity (ANU), examined Canberra’s sewage water for traces of thecoronavirus which causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2.

Testing sewage is a rapid and inexpensive way of tracking the coronavirus andpotential community transmission.

ANU environmental epidemiologist and project lead, Dr Aparna Lal, said thetesting of daily samples throughout May found no SARS-CoV-2 in sewage fromCanberra.

“We tested 25 samples in May from Icon Water’s sewage treatment plant,covering the whole of ACT population, and found no traces of SARS-CoV-2 RNA,”she said.

“This coincides with the period that the ACT was declared free of any newcoronavirus cases.

“These are excellent outcomes, and show the Canberra community are listeningto and following health advice and that we are all working extremely hard tostop the potential spread of COVID-19.”

The samples from Icon Water’s sewage treatment plant were analysed usingadvanced genetic testing, to detect SARS-CoV2 and a range of other viruses.While genetic material for a number of viruses was identified, indicating thetest worked, no traces of SARS-CoV2 were found in the ACT sewage system.

Dr Lal, based at the ANU Research School of Population Health, said sewagetesting allowed health authorities to effectively track the potential spreadof viruses like SARS-CoV2 outside of patient testing or hospital reporting.

“This shows us that we can actively monitor the presence of SARS-CoV2 throughsewage and that based on all the samples we have processed there are no highlevels of undetected community transmission in the ACT,” Dr Lal said.

“I want to thank Icon Water for allowing us to access samples from theirsewage treatment plant. Without their support this important work would not bepossible. It’s great to have them putting the wellbeing of our community atthe top of their priorities.”

The samples collected by Dr Lal were assessed in laboratories at the ANU JohnCurtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR).

“As we ease social distancing measures, we will continue to monitor the ACT’ssewage on a daily basis to further support the Territory’s public healthresponse to the pandemic”, Dr Lal said.

Professor Graham Mann, JCSMR Director, thanked all the collaborators involved.

“Our researchers are really pleased to be making this contribution to controlof the pandemic,” he said.

Dr Pawan Parajuli, who is conducting the advanced genetic testing at JCSMRsaid: “We have validated the method behind this test and shown that it canwork.

“We are now optimising it to make the test more sensitive so we can recoverand detect even more viruses from each sewage sample.”

The sewage program forms part of a comprehensive COVID-19 testing program atANU leveraging the expertise of more than 30 researchers.

Image: Medical researcher Rippei Hayashi at JCSMR -Rippei Hayashi studiessewerage testing data

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