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Fri May 7, 2021, 09:08 PM

Sewage epidemiology has been embraced in other countries, but not in the US. Will Covid change that?

In the tales told by sewage, public health and privacy collide
Sewage epidemiology has been embraced in other countries for decades, but not in the U.S. Will Covid change that?

MAY 7, 2021 1:00PM

In early March 2020, as Covid-19 cases were accelerating across the globe, the American aircraft carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt made its way to Da Nang, Vietnam for a scheduled stop to celebrate the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the nations. Nearly 100,000 cases of Covid-19 had been confirmed worldwide, and more than 3,000 people had died from it, when thousands of sailors poured off the ship for five days to mingle with locals, posing shoulder to shoulder for photos, overnighting in local hotels, and shooting hoops with Vietnamese kids.

Less than two weeks after pulling anchor, three crew members tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. In the ensuing weeks, the illness zipped through the vessel, eventually infecting 1,271 of the nearly 5,000 sailors, along with the ship's captain. Twenty-three sailors were hospitalized, with four admitted into intensive care. One died. The acting secretary of the Navy fired the captain for skirting the chain of command when he begged for help with the crisis, before the acting secretary himself resigned.

Thousands of miles away, landlocked in a suburb of curving roads and sunbaked backyard pools, Christian Daughton, a retired environmental scientist from the Environmental Protection Agency, followed the unfolding disaster online from an office nook in his kitchen. The former branch chief at what had been one of the EPA's foremost environmental chemistry labs in the country knew that something could have been done that there was a tool out there to help. Through an EPA colleague, Daughton contacted the office of the chief of naval operations to inform the Navy about the tool, which could decisively detect the virus onboard ships before sailors felt sick and, crucially, before the virus exploded among the rest of the crew.


As the first months of the pandemic played out in the U.S. and Daughton read the news over breakfast, he knew that had sewage testing been in place as the pathogen began to spread, it may have saved lives. But, at the time, few American health officials were even familiar with the field. It wasn't until months later that communities in the U.S. began actively looking at sewage to help curb the pandemic and a media frenzy ensued in late May. But by that time, nearly 2 million Americans had been infected by SARS-CoV-2 and 100,000 had died. "It's been incredibly frustrating, dejecting," he said.


The history of sewage epidemiology reveals what has shackled its development in the U.S.: concerns over privacy and stigmatization, politicians making decisions about scientific research, and a lack of dedicated funding. Experts believe the field holds enormous potential for tackling existing and future health threats. But even Daughton isn't sure that the U.S. is finally ready to harness the full potential of sewage analysis. Despite the growing interest, "I would think that for something this important," he said, "the needle would be moving faster." .............(more)


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Reply Sewage epidemiology has been embraced in other countries, but not in the US. Will Covid change that? (Original post)
marmar May 7 OP
hlthe2b May 7 #1

Response to marmar (Original post)

Fri May 7, 2021, 09:18 PM

1. Both CSU (Ft. Collins) and CU-Boulder used it to monitor dormitories for COVID-19.

Other institutions across the US did as well.

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