Queensland wastewater provides an early-warning system for COVID-19

28 September 2020

Trips to the toilet are creating an early-warning system that could be a key to controlling the COVID-19 pandemic in Queensland.

Monitoring has been rolled out in 13 communities across the state to detect traces of coronavirus in wastewater.

The program uses the same theory as the national wastewater monitoring program for illicit drugs – sewage doesn’t lie.

The program has already raised the alarm twice, as the state eases restrictions and steps closer to reopening its borders.

One of the lead researchers on the project, UQ's Professor Kevin Thomas, Director of the Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences (QAEHS), told Brisbane Times there were no positive cases but the incident showed the system working as designed.

"If we detect fragments of the virus in an area where there are no known positive cases then there is someone in that catchment who is shedding the virus, we’re confident in the technology," Professor Thomas said.

"There are a range of different reasons the virus could be there: it could have been from a person who has recovered from the virus but is still shedding virus particles, it could be an undetected case.

"It really is an opportunity for wastewater testing to work as a true early warning system, because we have a low level of infection and when it does pop up we can actually detect it."

Read Brisbane Times article