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Khalifa University of Science and Technology today announced researchers from its Center for Biotechnology (BTC) and the Center for Membranes and Advanced Water Technology (CMAT), in collaboration with other stakeholders are working together on a project for the surveillance of SARS-COV-2 viral load in municipal wastewater, as a method for early detection and tracking the spread of COVID-19 in the general population. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Estimating the spread of the novel coronavirus in any population has so far proved a challenge, given that many individuals who contract the virus remain asymptomatic or untested.

To get a better understanding of the spread of the virus, researchers at the Khalifa University of Science and Technology have launched a project to estimate the level of the virus in municipal wastewater.

A statement by the university today (May 3) said the project will help surveil the viral load in municipal wastewater as a method for early detection, and for tracking the spread of the coronavirus in the general population.

Studies have so far indicated that people infected with the coronavirus, including asymptomatic individuals, shed the virus through human waste.

“Since the levels of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater should mirror the number of detected infections in the population, testing a municipal wastewater sample will be tantamount to essentially testing everyone who has contributed to that sample - in other words a way of mass testing,” the university’s statement said.

Through this research, Khalifa University aims to establish a surveillance system for COVID-19 in municipal wastewater streams, linking it with simulation models developed for predicting and controlling the spread of the pandemic, together with the health authorities,” said Dr Arif Sultan Al Hammadi, executive vice-president at the University.

The project is led by Dr Ahmed Yousef, assistant professor for Chemistry, Dr Shadi Hasan, associate professor for Chemical Engineering, and Dr Habiba Alsafar, acting associate dean for student affairs at the University’s College of Medicine and Health Sciences. Dr Alsafar is also the associate professor at the Department of Genetics and Molecular Biology, and director of the Center for Biotechnology.

Once further studies assess the levels of coronavirus found in COVID-19 patient fecal samples, scientists will be able to construct a model that estimates the total number of symptomatic and asymptomatic people in the population based on wastewater levels.

Similar studies to estimate coronavirus load in wastewater are also being undertaken around the world, and results have already been published by authorities in Netherlands and Paris. However, these papers have not yet been vetted and approved by the wider scientific community as a viable method for estimating the spread of the virus in the general populatioon.