Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene sifts through sewage to trace COVID-19

Posted at 4:02 PM, Sep 08, 2020

MADISON — The Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene (WSLH) has partnered with UW-Milwaukee to trace COVID-19 by sifting through sewage.

The laboratory has teamed up with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences to sift through sewage from around 100 different wastewater facilities.

The group goes through the sewage once or twice a week in search of the genetic fingerprint of the virus that causes COVID-19.

According to a press release the UW-Madison, the search could "provide an early warning signal that cases of COVID-19 may soon rise and provide a readout of how levels of virus change in a population over time. It could give hospitals time to prepare for an increase in patients."

The search will also benefit UW-Madison students as it will provide an opportunity to target campus testing and limit disease spread.

"We picked this up in late March and said this is really something we should be doing," says Martin Shafer, a scientist at the WSLH and the UW-Madison College of Engineering. "We put a proposal into the (Wisconsin) Department of Health Services, and it was funded ... It's the largest in terms of the number of wastewater facilities in the country."

The total funding for the project is $1.25 million.

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