Researchers are using your poop to help track COVID-19


DENVER (KDVR) — At least a dozen sewage treatment plants in Colorado are helping track the spread of COVID-19 in communities by examining people’s poop.

The effort could prove to be incredibly effective when it comes to testing mass populations at once.

“If you think about sewage as being a community urine or stool sample, we’ve adapted methods to apply similar urine and stool analysis – but to waste water,” explained Newsha Ghaeli, president and co-Founder of Biobot Analytics.

Biobot Analytics is teaming up with sewage treatment facilities across the nation to collect fecal samples.

“Instead of individual testing giving you a positive yes or no, this looks at a community as a whole and tries to determine the rate within that community,” said Pieter Van Ry, director of South Platte Water Renewal Partners.

Van Ry’s facility manages sewage for 300,000 Colorado residents in the southwest Denver metro area.

“Testing at scale and understanding the true prevalence of COVID-19 is absolutely critical,” Ghaeli said.

Not only does “sewage surveillance” (as researchers like to call it) allow for assistance in testing on a large scale, it also helps speed up the process. 

“We really believe that waste water testing is a very useful compliment to other forms of community surveillance right now,” Ghaeli said.

The Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, which includes the city of Denver, is also serving as a sampling site.

“The Metro District is sharing this data with the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment,” said District Manager Mickey Conway.  “As an organization committed to protecting public health and the environment, we will continue to provide industry expertise in support of this quickly evolving effort.”

The Colorado facilities taking part plan to discuss the data they’ve received so far on Thursday, according to Van Ry.

Overall, Biobot Analytics is working with 400 sewage treatment facilities across the nation. According to Ghaeli, they serve more than 10% of the United States’ population.

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