Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Omicron was in Nova Scotia wastewater before it was identified in South Africa

‘Our team retrospectively detected omicrons in Nova Scotia wastewater in mid-November,’ say the Dalhousie researchers.

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New data from Dalhousie University researchers shows that Omicron was in Nova Scotia wastewater weeks before the province was identified – and even before the new COVID-19 variant was reported by South Africa.


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Graham Gagnon, professor and director of the Center for Water Resource Studies, confirmed in an email that: “Our team retrospectively detected omicrons in Nova Scotia wastewater in mid-November and will be able to provide further information in the future. “

The first case of Omicron was confirmed in Nova Scotia on 13 December, followed a few weeks later in South Africa on 24 November.

Gagnon’s team has been testing wastewater from Nova Scotia’s four main treatment plants since December 2020. They are also testing waste water from student residences on Dalhousie’s campus.

Mark Servos, a professor and researcher in the Department of Biology at the University of Waterloo, said this type of test will become an important tool for tracking the spread of COVID-19 in the coming months as access to PCR testing continues to be limited across the country. Is. , His laboratory is currently surveying wastewater in the Peel, York and Waterloo regions of Ontario.


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“As Omicron continues, wastewater is going to react by going up or down, and that’s what’s going to help inform people of our policy,” he said.

Currently, in Ontario, PCR testing is available only to symptomatic high-risk individuals and those working in high-risk environments. This means it’s going to be hard to get an accurate picture of who has COVID, especially because Omicron can be transmitted so easily, Servos said.

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In Wastewater, Servos said they were able to see how quickly each variant became effective in the province.

“Alpha took a few months to take over, Delta took a month and a half and Omicron took about two weeks.”

In Alberta, where PCR testing is also limited, researchers are monitoring wastewater throughout the province for the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.


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Casey Hubert, associate professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Calgary and one of the heads of the Wastewater Monitoring Project in Calgary, said the wastewater test is able to tell researchers what is happening a week before it is reported.

“Waste water actually provides the kind of early warning signal that precedes case counting,” he said.

Albertans can use a dashboard set up by Hubert’s team to monitor the amount of COVID-19 in wastewater across the province. This is a helpful tool, Hubert said, because with less testing, less accurate information is being given about how many people may have the virus.

While wastewater testing has been successful in some provinces, not all public health units are seeing benefits.


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In Quebec, where PCR testing is limited to high-risk settings and northern and remote communities, Sainte Québec decided not to extend funding for a project to test wastewater in the province.

CentrEAU-COVID, a project run by researchers from Polytechnique Montreal and McGill University, tested the waters in Montreal and the surrounding areas of Quebec City. The decision to stop funding was made the same week the Omicron variant was detected in the province.

Dominique Frigon, one of the project’s coordinators, said their project was mostly conducted during the third wave of the pandemic in Quebec. In Montreal, the number of cases was not changing much per day, said Frigon, which made the wastewater data flat, while in Quebec City the number was rising sharply and the data reflected that.

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“Since this data was fairly new, we had a hard time explaining to the public health why this data was useful,” Frigon said.

Without wastewater testing, Frigon said public health would be missing out on important data that indicates cases are increasing or decreasing.

“If we were testing we would have a better picture of it,” he said.

When properly interpreted, and in collaboration with other public health measures such as PCR testing, Servos said wastewater testing could be a useful tool in the short- and long-term monitoring of epidemics.



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