Waste water study reveals changes to delta COVID-19 variant in Missouri

Researchers also say virus is not limited to infecting only humans.
Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 10:31 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Scientists continue to closely monitoring waste water for traces of the coronavirus and variants in our communities.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services released a new report last week.

“Every week there’s something new,” said University of Missouri Professor Marc Johnson.

He been analyzing waste water samples for more than a year.

“Remember when COVID first came and we didn’t have good tests? You were scared of your own shadow. Here we are a year and a half later the virus is just as deadly as it was then, probably deadlier but we’re actually much more comfortable because we just know more about what’s going on,” he explained.

Johnson shares that information with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Senior epidemiology specialist Jeff Wenzel uses that data as a model to track the spread.

“When we first tested it was really a test of can we see it. The next step was now that we’re seeing it does it provide some sort of meaning,” he said.

When samples from a community contain an increase of the virus load Wenzel says it usually indicates a spike in COVID-19 cases.

“It gives us some sort of lead time, 4 to 6 days and that it does have some predictive ability,” he explains.

Recently, analysts say they’ve found mutations of the delta variant.

Wenzel said, “Delta has subliniages, A1, A3.”

Additionally researchers have been able to find that the disease is not limited to infecting humans.

“It seems that there is some other host that it is rats, dogs, something. We know it’s there. It’s very clear. We see the sequence week after week after week. It is not even close to anything that has been seen in patients. If it weren’t for the waste water testing we would have no clue,” said Johnson.

This makes the sewer shed surveillance project a key tool in tracking the trends of the COVID-19 virus.

Wenzel said, “Using this information alone with other information may be useful. But no one model is going to be perfect.”

“I never thought you could learn some much about a community from a little bit of waste water. It’s really amazing,” said Johnson.

Most states do some sort of waste water testing but Missouri is the only one to publish the results on a map for the public to see according to Wenzel.

You can access the current report here.

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