With experts predicting that Covid-19 could be with us for many years, the world needs to find new and innovative ways to prevent the spread of the disease – and pipes could have a massive role to play in the battle.
Spotting localised outbreaks early and instigating restrictions is one method of trying to control the transmission of coronavirus. In the United Kingdom, we have seen the government place Leicester into lockdown while several areas of Spain including Catalonia and Galicia have had restrictions imposed.
Spikes in recorded cases are currently the best way to analyse where outbreaks are occurring – but it is a slow process. Coronavirus symptoms can take up to 14 days to show, in which time the virus can spread like wildfire because of how contagious it is.
Speeding up the process of identifying areas with high cases of coronavirus would allow lockdowns to be imposed quicker, slowing the transmission of the disease.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs believes that the monitoring of wastewater passing through sewerage pipes and systems could provide the necessary information to spot Covid-19 much earlier than is currently possible.
Defra’s website says, “Sewage monitoring is being established across the UK as part of an advance warning system to detect new outbreaks of coronavirus.”
“The new approach is based on recent research findings that fragments of genetic material – RNA – from the virus can be detected in wastewater.”
“This could be used to detect the presence of the virus in the population, including those who are asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic.”
Analysing the contents of wastewater is nothing new. In the United Kingdom, tests are carried out on oxygen levels to ensure that sewerage companies are treating water to the required standards.
The test takes five days to carry out. It involves a human collecting a sample which is then transported to a lab for testing and measurement, a time-consuming process.
Technological advancements mean that it should soon be possible for these sensors to analyse the contents of wastewater in pipes in real-time. It is estimated that the smart pipes market could be worth as much as $2 billion by 2030.
Cambridge-based bio technical company Avacta have developed a system which can analyse wastewater for the virus’ spike protein. More than 60 percent of coronavirus patients suffer from diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting while Covid-19 can also be found in faecal samples.
By combining Avacta’s detection systems with pipe repair technology, you have a method of spotting localised outbreaks of Covid-19 based on what people are flushing into their sewers, possibly before those who have been infected become symptomatic.
That data can then be used to inform decisions about local lockdowns, helping to prevent the spread of Covid-19.