15 April 2020
Scientists at Bangor University are joining the global fight against the current COVID-19 pandemic.
A group of leading academics are to pool their expertise to develop new ways of mass-monitoring levels of SARS-Cov-2, the virus which causes the newly named COVID-19 illness.
Prof Davey Jones of the School of Natural Sciences and one of the project leaders explained:
“An accurate estimation of the amount of infection circulating in the whole community would be valuable information for those charged with planning for and controlling the spread of disease. While the number of hospitalisation of COVID-19 cases provides some measure of the disease within the population, it provides no reliable information on mild infections and carriers who show no symptoms.”
Random ‘spot checks’ and thermal imaging cameras have been introduced to screen for infections, though these are costly to implement and very imprecise. Better methods are needed to evaluate SARS-CoV-2 prevalence in the wider population.
As SARS-CoV-2 virus is shed in human faeces in high amounts, Bangor University’s research group are to test using wastewater to provide a powerful indicator of disease incidence at any point in time. This is particularly suitable as most UK urban centres are served by only one or two wastewater treatment works, providing a single integrated signal of millions of people in a single sample.
This NERC ‘Urgency’ funded project at the University’s College of Environmental Sciences & Engineering will achieve several goals by using wastewater to provide near real-time information on the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 within the UK population.
Prof Dave Chadwick, a co-leader at the School of Natural Sciences explained further:
“Real-time wastewater monitoring of the rise and subsequent decline of SARS-CoV-2 in the UK can be compared to conventional disease reporting metrics such as current COVID-19 hospitalization cases. It will enable similarities in the abundance of SARS-CoV-2 in the major urban centres of the UK to be identified.”
Dr Shelagh Malham, also a co- leader of the research at the School of Ocean Sciences explained:
“In the longer term, we hope to demonstrate how wastewater can be used for the integrated surveillance of human illness-causing viruses within the human population and provide bodies such as national government, NHS, Public Health England and Wales and water companies with critical scientific information to be able to make informed decisions on disease control and respond and adapt to potential future disease epidemics.”
Prof David Thomas, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research commented:
“While the University has inevitably had to place much of its active research projects on hold, due to the national importance of this research, it clearly has to go ahead.”