ESR scientists have detected the COVID-19 virus in wastewater samples.

The samples, collected in April, were from sites around New Zealand that had significant numbers of COVID-19 positive cases in the population, so finding the virus was not unexpected.  Only very low levels of the virus were detected in the samples.

By testing wastewater for the COVID-19 virus, ESR scientists will be able to provide information to better understand the virus’ presence, prevalence and distribution within our population.

 This discovery demonstrates that while it is possible to detect the virus, more work needs to be done to improve the concentration and detection methods, and design appropriate sampling strategies.

 The use of wastewater to detect the COVID-19 virus provides an opportunity to develop an early-warning monitoring tool designed specifically for New Zealand’s conditions, where we have a low population density, high number of septic tanks that don’t discharge into waste water treatment plants, and low numbers of positive COVID-19 cases.

 Because New Zealand’s COVID-19 infection rates are different from many other countries, ESR’s research will be contributing to the global effort to learn more about the spread of COVID-19 within communities. Our initial research findings will be shared with other global wastewater scientists soon. 

ESR scientists are highly trained and expert in their fields, with 20 years of experience testing wastewater.  ESR  is already using the data they obtain through testing wastewater for a range of other viruses, pathogens and substances to provide communities with insights into their wellbeing to inform decision-making at a national, regional and local level.

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News item information

  • Health science