UVA researchers trying to expand wastewater testing to long-term care facilities

UVA researchers trying to expand wastewater testing to long-term care facilities

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Researchers at the University of Virginia have been detecting the presence of the coronavirus through wastewater testing in dorms for months. Now, they’re looking to expand their efforts to people in high-risk categories.

“The goal with this is to try and limit transmission in situations where people live together,” Dr. Amy Mathers, an infectious disease physician at UVA, said.

Dr. Mathers has been successfully detecting coronavirus in wastewater on UVA Grounds at residence halls. Now her team is looking to expand that kind of testing to long-term care facilities.

“By taking wastewater over a 24-hour period and collecting it periodically, and then taking it to the lab and checking if it has the molecular signature or the RNA signature of the virus, we can tell if somebody was shedding that SARS-CoV-2 virus,” Dr. Mathers said.

With the help of UVA engineers, geriatricians, mathematicians, and biologists a proposal was written and sent last month to the National Institute of Health requesting funding in order to bring wastewater testing into nursing homes and dorms.

“How do we keep residents safe who are super vulnerable for the COVID infection and poor outcomes,” UVA geriatrics physician Dr. Laurie Archbald-Pannone said.

Dr. Archbald-Pannone helped researchers write the proposal.

“If or when it gets into a building to know as soon as possible to then be able to act as both infection control to protect other residents, then that can be a big game changer in terms of outcomes from this infection,” Dr. Archbald-Pannone said.

Dr. Archbald-Pannone says per federal mandate, nursing homes swab residents and staff once or twice a week to detect COVID-19.

“It would be less burdensome for the residents in the long-term care and the staff to not have to be tested by nasal swab," Dr. Archbald-Pannone said.

If the proposal is approved, testing would begin as early as December.

“We really want this technique to work to find new contagious infections, so we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Dr. Mathers said.

The committee meets next week to review the proposal and it could be approved in November.

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