Researchers Are Tracking COVID-19 in a Surprising Way

September 29, 2020

austin wastewater treatment

According to the Water Research Foundation, the average person mindlessly flushes the toilet about five times a day, sending wastewater down pipes into city sewers and on to treatment plants.

It’s easy to forget there’s a whole system running beneath our feet all the time.

But that dirty, smelly water could hold something very valuable: the key to tracking COVID-19 hot spots in a city before diagnostic testing is able to identify outbreaks.

The novel coronavirus is a fecally shed virus, which means its signature shows up in our waste. Because of this, University of Texas researchers are hoping they can track its spread by studying human feces.

Mary Jo Kirisits, an associate professor in UT’s Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, is leading a team that’s monitoring COVID-19 in Austin’s wastewater to identify upticks in cases before people show up with symptoms at clinics. The team includes professor Kerry Kinney, researcher JP Maestre and graduate students Emma Palmer and David Jarma, also from the Cockrell School of Engineering, as well as research scientist Suzanne Pierce, analyst Lissa Pearson and engineering scientist Anna Dabrowski from the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC).

“It’s smelly but valuable work,” Kinney joked.

Read the full story
tracking tracking tracking tracking