Nothing goes to waste: UK researchers use wastewater for coronavirus testing

Posted at 1:37 PM, Sep 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-10 18:12:44-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — University of Kentucky researchers won't waste a thing when it comes to finding new ways to flatten the curve.

Last week, receptacles to catch wastewater from residence halls were installed in the ground below.

"Identifying a residential facility, so a dorm, for example, and pulling off the wastewater coming from that facility to test for COVID RNA," said Dr. Robert DiPaola, the dean of the College of Medicine.

While the process may smell a little fishy to some, it's already proving to be effective.

"One university (Arizona) was able to capture two individuals who were COVID-positive out of more than 300, so it's fairly sensitive in that regard," said DiPaola.

Because this type of testing is so new, a false-positive margin for error is yet to be determined. But DiPaola believes it's better than nothing, especially with the work being done on campus.

"Laboratory researchers who are experts in this area actually doing the testing, and we have experts who have an understanding on the epidemiology end who know how useful something like this can be,” he explained.

Suppose the lab returns a positive test from the wastewater sample. In that case, those living inside that residence hall can then be tested individually, and self-isolated should their result come back positive.

In addition to this potential solution for limiting the spread of coronavirus on campus, this type of research might lead experts towards a method of detection for other issues that can often whip through a college residence hall, whether it's MRSA, hepatitis, or anything else.

"I think we're going to learn so much from what we mean to do that it could be applied to other things down the road, without a doubt," DiPaola added.