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Health officials utilize testing of raw sewage water to get a better grasp of COVID-19 levels

Dr. Saurabh Chattopadhyay says they are looking for the gene fragment that is shed from the individuals and not the actual virus.

LUCAS COUNTY, Ohio — In a race to stop the spread of COVID-19, local health officials are gathering data from a rather interesting place: raw sewage water.

"You have the ability to shed this through stool. So, when you actually, again utilize the bathroom and flush the toilet, that has to go someplace and what it's doing then is looking for fragments of the virus," said Eric Zgodzinski, the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department Health Commissioner. 

One of those places raw sewage water goes to is the Napoleon Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Dave Pike, the superintendent of the plant, says they were asked to volunteer for the testing. 

"We sample 3 days a week for EPA reporting, purposes and testing. We'll collect the sample on our influent, a raw influent water coming in, and then we'll split our sample with the University of Toledo," explained Pike. 

The way it works is raw sewage is pulled from a tank and it comes through a tube, then goes into a refrigerator.

From there, it is shipped overnight to the University of Toledo where a virus researcher provides a laboratory analysis.

"What we are looking at here is not the infectious virus particle. We are looking at the gene fragment that is shed from the individuals and not the infectious virus," said Dr. Saurabh Chattopadhyay, with the University of Toledo.

The results are then sent to the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department. Those results offer many benefits to health officials.

"One is the ability to maybe to see an issue after you get a high reading, 3 to 7 days after that result comes back. So, you might be able to go out to a community and go, 'listen, in the next couple of days you might have an issue with COVID'," said Zgodzinski. 

The health commissioner also says this is a way that any particular community has the time to take extra precautions.

"We test for it because there are a lot of people who do not present any symptoms, right? They're asymptomatic. But, what has been shown in various studies, that this individual can also shed the virus to the feces," said Dr. Chattopadhyay.