UVic researcher Heather Buckley holds a wastewater sample, which will be used to study and identify future outbreaks of COVID-19 throughout B.C., starting in Greater Victoria. (Courtesy of University of Victoria)

University of Victoria to study COVID outbreaks from your poop

Greater Victoria first to receive sewage monitoring system in B.C.

  • Jul. 22, 2020 12:00 a.m.

What if you could tell when a population had outbreaks of COVID-19, whether they were symptomatic or asymptomatic?

Three engineering researchers at University of Victoria are developing a sewage monitoring system with a private company to do exactly that.

“For centuries, people have been tested individually for infectious diseases,” said Devesh Bharadwaj, CEO of Pani Energy, a company the UVic alum founded in 2017, in a release. “Being able to test their collective waste to provide a supplemental data source for disease surveillance, is an emerging field with considerable potential.”

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Bharagwaj is joining Stephanie Willerth, chair of UVic’s Biomedical Engineering program, and Caetano Dorea, head of the Public Health and Environmental Engineering lab, to study samples and report about wastewater data from across B.C. in July.

Notably, the wide range of pathogens that can be detected in wastewater will give public health agencies a useful tool to monitor outbreaks in the future. This project has been funded through a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

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“Having this predictive tool will be a real game changer, both in terms of responding to a second wave of COVID-19, as well as to other pathogen outbreaks over the longer term,” said Buckley in a release. “Victoria is currently at a near-zero point with COVID-19, so any data we can collect now provides us with a baseline against which we can compare when the virus returns.”

Greater Victoria will be the first area in the province where the university will implement the new wastewater monitoring system.

RELATED: B.C. to begin to test sewage to find clues about where COVID-19 has spread


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