COVID-19 wastewater screening project underway at UWEC
CLEAR WATER, Wis. (WEAU) – Twice a week you can find research students Laura Horstman and Logan Anderson taking samples from the depths of the North and South Towers.
“Now that wastewater can be anything from shower water, bath water to toilet water,” says Logan Anderson, a pre-med student at UWEC.
Full 24 hour sample for accurate representation of an entire day. Compensation?
“Yes, we have the system definitely down,” thirty minutes or less, laughs Horstman.
Sealed and ready for analysis, the samples are sent to a laboratory in Madison where the wastewater will be analyzed for any presence of COVID RNA.
“Specifically measure RNA and gene copies per liter so they use a PCR test,” says Anderson.
Then map this data for possible use as a reliable predictor of covid-19 outbreaks.
“We work in Accel and create graphs of the positive cases that we actually know across campus and compare them to our positive sewage samples that we get from Madison, so we’re trying to see if there’s a correlation. in between, “Anderson says.” If there is a spike in the positive cases and see if there is a latency period between the positive cases and the positive sewage. “
The students work under the direction of Crispin Pierce, professor of public health and environmental studies at the university.
With work underway since August, Pierce says the results are only beginning to scratch the surface.
“The idea behind our sampling is that if we can detect the RNA or genetic material of a virus or bacteria in wastewater, then we can implement testing, vaccination and even quarantine there. where we need it, ”says Pierce.
Add that positive cases are expected to peak in sewage earlier than people with signs of illness, but so far this has not been the case.
“We do not see a correlation, one is the low number of cases on campus, the other is the appearance of RNA in the sewage, we thought it would appear sooner but it did not have tend to last longer, so even after students were no longer positive for COVID-19, we would find COVID RNA in their wastewater.
Nonetheless, Pierce says these types of negative science results are just as important as positive public health results for his students.
“I also really like looking at the data, because I collect the samples and then I look back at what I’m doing, I compare the numbers between the positive cases, which we measure by trying to find correlations between that,” explains Horstman a second year major in Kinesiology at UWEC.
A one-of-a-kind project for the Blugold’s, and a project rooted in practical work.
This is just one of three research projects that Dr Pierce says his students are working on to further protect the Eau Claire community from the virus.
The other two involve testing to see if air ventilation systems are adequate to reduce aerosol transmission of COVID on campus and at a local children’s natural center.
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