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Local municipalities add sewage water testing to COVID-19 detection arsenal

Scientists said that a major advantage of the detection tool was that it picked up symptomatic and asymptomatic cases in communities.

Microbiology Ph.D. candidate Noluxabiso Mangwana tests a wastewater sample for COVID-19. Picture: Kevin Brandt/Eyewitness News

CAPE TOWN - COVID-19 sewage testing is now firmly part of some local municipalities’ armoury in the fight against the pandemic.

The early-warning system was introduced by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) last year.

Scientists said that a major advantage of the detection tool was that it picked up symptomatic and asymptomatic cases in communities.

Once wastewater samples are received by scientists from sites, they pour them into 50 millilitre tubes.

These containers are then placed in a centrifuge machine that concentrates particles into a pellet which also contains the coronavirus’ genetic material.

After that, the scientists extract the genetic material, which is in the form of RNA.

Once this is done, research scientist Dr Jyoti Rajan Sharma receives the RNA and prepares it for further real-time PCR analysis.

“That technology will help us to amplify a particular region which is responsible for the covid RNA."

Senior scientist, Dr Stephanie Dias, explained that this machine detected DNA or RNA expression in samples.

"We get the CT values which is then converted to quantity means and we export this data in an Excel file, and we calculate the viral copy number for each sample that comes from the wastewater sites."

Experts said that through this wastewater-based epidemiology, they could predict a rise in cOVID-19 cases within a week or more before it was detectable through human testing.

WATCH: How your sewage helps identify levels of COVID in your community

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