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Brazil - Fiocruz publishes results of study on the presence of the new coronavirus in sewers

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  • Brazil - Fiocruz publishes results of study on the presence of the new coronavirus in sewers

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    Fiocruz publishes results of study on the presence of the new coronavirus in sewers

    By: Vinicius Ferreira (IOC / Fiocruz) *

    Researchers from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, in partnership with the city of Niterói, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, started a study to verify the presence of genetic material from the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in samples from the city's sewage system. The objective is to monitor the behavior of the spread of the virus throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
    Considering that recent scientific evidence shows that the new coronavirus is excreted in feces, the project uses the analysis of sewage samples as a surveillance tool, allowing to identify regions with the presence of cases of the disease, even those not yet reported in the health system. The environmental monitoring carried out by Fiocruz, which has been carrying out research activities in the field of Environmental Virology for over 15 years, is in line with international scientific studies, which have demonstrated the importance of sewage-based surveillance for the early detection of new cases of Covid- 19.

    The first collections were made on April 15. Samples of raw sewage are being collected at 12 georeferenced points and strategically distributed throughout the city of Niterói, including sewage treatment stations (ETEs), hospital wastewater disposal points and sewage collection networks, in the neighborhoods of Icaraí, Jurujuba, Camboinhas, Maravista, Sapê and in the communities of Palácio, Cavalão, Preventório, Vila Ipiranga, Caramujo, Maceió and Boa Esperança. The forecast is that, in the first stage of the project, monitoring will be carried out for four weeks, with the possibility of extension.

    The initial results, unprecedented in Brazil, show the effectiveness of the methodology in expanding surveillance of the spread of the new coronavirus. In the first week, it was possible to detect genetic material from the new coronavirus in sewage samples at five of the 12 collection points: three visit wells (PVs) of collecting trunks in the Icaraí neighborhood and at the entrances of ETE Icaraí and ETE Camboinhas. As a methodology, we used the ultracentrifugation method, traditionally used to concentrate viruses in sewers, associated with the RT-PCR technique in real time, indicated by the World Health Organization (WHO). The data were published in the 'Fast Track' section of the scientific journal Memórias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz , which allows for accelerated dissemination of research related to the pandemic.

    The samples collected in the second and third weeks are in the processing stage.

    The analyzes are led by the Laboratory of Comparative and Environmental Virology of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute (IOC / Fiocruz), in collaboration with the Laboratory of Respiratory and Measles Viruses, also of the IOC / Fiocruz. The planning and carrying out of collections is done by the Department of Sanitation and Environmental Health of the National School of Public Health Sérgio Arouca (ENSP / Fiocruz), in collaboration with the concessionaire Águas de Niterói, which operates the water supply, collection and treatment services city ​​sewage system.

    “Monitoring the circulation of the new coronavirus during the epidemic will subsidize information for health surveillance, allowing to optimize the use of available resources and strengthen prophylaxis measures in the area, since the systematic investigation of the presence of the virus genetic material in the network sanitary sewage can provide a picture of the presence of positive cases in a given location, including asymptomatic and underreported in the health system. This study confirms the importance of wastewater-based surveillance as a promising approach to understanding the occurrence of the virus in a given geographic region, as well as the inclusion of Environmental Virology in Public Health Policies ”, explains researcher Marize Pereira Miagostovich,

    “Once again, Fiocruz directs special attention to facing a public health problem, in the search for answers that can be directly applied to strengthen the Unified Health System (SUS). Our experience in environmental virology will be added to the efforts of the excellent work performed by Fiocruz's reference center in laboratory diagnosis of the new coronavirus, which estimates the number of people infected by the disease ”, adds Miagostovich.

    The virologist points out that so far there is no scientific evidence on the possibility of transmission of the new coronavirus by fecal-oral route, as is the case in other water-borne diseases caused by viruses, bacteria and protozoa. “Our analyzes detect the presence of fragments of genetic material from the virus, indicating that there are positive cases in a given location. However, there is still no evidence in the scientific literature that, when excreted in the feces, the virus is still viable to infect other people ”, he explains. So far, the airway is the main mode of transmission, through respiratory droplets generated by coughing or sneezing.

    According to the municipal secretary of Planning, Budget and Management of the City of Niterói, Axel Grael, the union of scientific knowledge with that of public policy will contribute to the strengthening of the city's health strategies to face the pandemic. “Establishing several collection points in the city allows us to verify that communities have a higher incidence of coronavirus, based on sewage samples, even if the location has many asymptomatic people. As the City is starting a broad program of testing, and our goal is to prioritize communities, the result of this research can establish priorities among the communities where we should start testing ”, ponders the secretary and environmentalist.

    For researcher Camille Mannarino, from ENSP / Fiocruz, the study reinforces the importance of the relationship between sanitation and health. “Covid-19 monitoring in sanitary sewers both subsidizes regionalized actions to contain transmission and allows to anticipate the mobilization of primary health care in a given location where viral circulation is previously detected by monitoring sewers”, he points out.

    However, she points out that this type of surveillance is only possible in municipalities where a significant portion of the population is served by a sewage collection network and the service operator has control over the system. “In the case of Niterói, the coverage of the sewage network is 95%. Adequate sewage collection and treatment are also essential for the non-contamination of water supply and recreation ”, justifies the sanitary engineer.

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    -Nelson Mandela