Recently, researchers from leading Israeli academic institutions Ben Gurion University and the Technion Institute of Technology teamed up with wastewater management technology leader, Kando, in a pilot aimed at detecting outbreaks of the Novel Coronavirus in the sewage systems of the Israeli coastal city, Ashkelon, home to over 120,000 residents. Furthermore, the research revealed early-detection capabilities when examining wastewater, which also demonstrated the ability to identify COVID-19 hot spots down to the city street.
"Monitoring our sewers is like taking the 'blood test' of a city," said Ari Goldfarb, CEO of Kando.
A more efficient way of testing for COVID
The coastal city of Ashkelon was chosen as the pilot site as it was believed to have a low number of cases, aside from the city's "coronavirus hotels" housing COVID-19 patients. Although, the pilot’s initial findings revealed a different story, as researchers surprisingly found “significant remnants of the coronavirus in municipal wastewater”, according to the company. This was a clear indicator of the capabilities of this research, providing results that suggest that maybe the whole ‘sticking a cotton swab up the nose’ thing is a waste of resources and money. When rather, by examining the sewage systems enables a more efficient and less time consuming determine for early detection of COVID-19 outbreaks. Pinpointing specific areas that have a potential for outbreaks becomes an even more relevant solution when taking into account the asymptomatic aspect of the infectious virus.
"The successful initial results of this pilot study demonstrate that our sophisticated wastewater monitoring systems can help detect new outbreaks and determine exactly where and how serious they are. Along with our distinguished partners at Ben Gurion University and the Technion, we've demonstrated that we can offer actionable insights to authorities, alarming them to outbreaks even before residents are symptomatic. Our hope is to help cities around the world prevent wholesale shutdowns and mitigate future outbreaks."
Kando utilized its innovative smart sewage platform, led by an AI agent fed data from a vast network of manhole sensors, and proprietary algorithms, along with its years of experience measuring industrial and other waste streams in municipal sewage systems, to provide researchers with all the tools and knowledge they would need. As a result, researchers successfully measured concentrations of the Coronavirus in the wastewater, using the data to determine an approximate number of infected individuals, after factoring in that the waste kills, if not weakens, the virus.
"Identifying traces of the coronavirus in city wastewater is extremely challenging due to the various types of substances found in sewage systems, including industrial wastewater, which can dilute or destroy remnants of the virus," said Professor Nadav Davidovitch, Director, School of Public Health at Ben Gurion University.
Possibly an end to national lockdown policies?
The researchers include world-renowned scientists at Ben Gurion University and the Technion who come from a variety of disciplines including virology, water engineering, medicine, epidemiology, biostatistics, and public health policy. They were able to quantify and delineate this environmental and epidemiological data, allowing them to narrow down measurements to neighborhoods, and potentially streets.
The results of the research will help drive smarter decision making regarding lockdown policies, allowing decision-makers to make educated restrictions based on early-detection data of potential hot spots, instead of the current approach of “one punishment for all”.
"Our unique methodology enables us to detect and trace the presence of the virus and calculate its concentration with these substances factored into the equation, and to integrate epidemiological evidence in order to pinpoint emerging COVID-19 hotspots. This will allow authorities to take action to contain future outbreaks. This type of interdisciplinary science will continue to help disease containment methods – for coronavirus, and beyond," further explains Davidovitch.
As of right now, it seems that any insight that inches us closer to containing this global pandemic is more than welcomed, but it’s also important to note that although the Coronavirus will one day pass, there are other viruses just waiting for their shot, and having a scaled early-detection method in place only adds to our advancement during these trying times, as well as preparing us for the future.
“The successful initial results of this pilot study demonstrate that our sophisticated wastewater monitoring systems can help detect new outbreaks and determine exactly where and how serious they are. Along with our distinguished partners at Ben Gurion University and the Technion, we've demonstrated that we can offer actionable insights to authorities, alarming them to outbreaks even before residents are symptomatic. Our hope is to help cities around the world prevent wholesale shutdowns and mitigate future outbreaks,” Goldfarb notes.