Water Smarts Podcast
Poops don't lie - tracking a pandemic using wastewater
March 15, 2021
Dan Gerrity and Katerina Papp
Every time Southern Nevadans flush the toilet, they’re helping scientists at the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWSA) and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas study the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community. SNWA researchers Dan Gerrity and Katerina Papp talk about how they ensure the coronavirus is not in our drinking water supply, and how they can track a pandemic using raw sewage samples and wastewater surveillance on episode 7 of the Water Smarts podcast: “Poops don’t lie – Tracking a pandemic using wastewater.” As our community recovers from the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, SNWA’s wastewater epidemiology studies can help serve as an early warning system for future virus outbreaks and other community health issues.
According to Dan and Katerina:
- When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in early 2020, SNWA scientists worked fast to ensure the virus was not in our community’s drinking water, treated wastewater or source water—It wasn’t! They also began studying raw sewage to measure the concentration of the virus in the community.
- Wastewater epidemiology has been around for a few years, but it is an emerging field of study in tracking pandemics. Countries have tracked the prevalence of opioid use in a community, for example, using wastewater surveillance.
- As the pandemic recedes, wastewater surveillance can be used as a type of “early warning” system for future virus outbreaks. The research method also can determine the prevalence of influenza, illicit drugs and other public health issues that may be impacting a community.