A pilot project conducted in Ashkelon city aimed to spot early outbreaks of coronavirus by identifying traces of the COVID-19 in the municipal sewage system announced a success.
The pilot in city-scale of 150,000 residents was made by Kando, a wastewater monitoring technology company, in collaboration with researchers from Ben-Gurion University and the Technion.
The findings helped target the eruption area to a particular neighborhood and even individual streets. The pilot findings will provide authorities with the ability to detect corona outbreaks early and may help reduce closure areas.
The city of Ashkelon was chosen as the experimental site, as the number of cases verified in it is relatively low, except for the “Corona Hotels” in the city. During the pilot, however, completely different findings were found: a high amount of virus residues in the sewage, which were used as a means of early detection of an outbreak in a neighborhood in the city.
Detection of virus residues in wastewater is a quicker and earlier means of detection than testing for individuals – especially when the time between infection in the coronavirus and the onset of symptoms are taken into account.
As early as April, evidence of the method began to accumulate, such as a study by researchers at the KWR Institute for Water Research in the Netherlands, in which researchers concluded that sewage monitoring may be an effective method for early detection of the virus in various communities.
The researchers developed an interdisciplinary method and technology for monitoring the sewer system, which began with tests at a sewage treatment plant and progressed “upstream” toward the city itself.
The technology uses an array of sensors, placed in many sewers in the city, along with the use of advanced algorithms and artificial intelligence.
The researchers were able to deduce the proportion of the population infected in Coronavirus by using the available information, including taking into account factors such as components in the sewage that may destroy the virus and the rate of flow that dilutes its concentration in the water.
The researchers come from a variety of fields, such as virology, water engineering, medicine, epidemiology, biostatistics and public health experts. They were able to quantify the information collected and accurately describe the epidemiological and environmental findings.
Early detection of outbreak foci will allow for much more accurate treatment and will avoid extensive closures.
“Like a blood test of a city”
“Identifying traces of the coronavirus in city wastewater is extremely challenging due to the various types of substances found in sewage systems, including industrial wastewater, which can dilute or destroy remnants of the virus,” said Professor Nadav Davidovitch, Director, School of Public Health at Ben Gurion University.
“Our unique methodology enables us to detect and trace the presence of the virus and calculate its concentration with these substances factored into the equation, and to integrate epidemiological evidence in order to pinpoint emerging COVID-19 hotspots. This will allow authorities to take action to contain future outbreaks. This type of interdisciplinary science will continue to help disease containment methods – for coronavirus, and beyond.”
“Monitoring our sewers is like taking the ‘blood test’ of a city,” said Ari Goldfarb, CEO of Kando. “The successful initial results of this pilot study demonstrate that our sophisticated wastewater monitoring systems can help detect new outbreaks and determine exactly where and how serious they are.
“Along with our partners, we’ve demonstrated that we can offer actionable insights to authorities, alarming them to outbreaks even before residents are symptomatic. Our hope is to help cities around the world prevent wholesale shutdowns and mitigate future outbreaks.”