Italy’s sewers will give early warning of future COVID spikes

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MILAN, Jan 14 (Reuters) – Italy will use the country’s wastewater to predict the future spread of the coronavirus and alert authorities to rising cases and new variants before they emerge in tests and hospitals, a senior official said announced a project to be launched in a few months.

The new tool is being rolled out as governments look for new ways to track the virus, to inform public health policy and decide whether to take unpopular measures like restrictions that disrupt people’s lives and economies.

It could also come in handy amid concerns about a shortage of test kits and labs left overwhelmed when the more contagious Omicron variant sweeps the world. Like many other countries, Italy is sighted heaving Cases.

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The tool will provide early warning of future waves of infection, detecting the presence and occurrence of different variants, co-head of wastewater monitoring at the National Health Institute (ISS), Giuseppina La Rosa, told Reuters this week.

She said she thinks it will be ready in two or three months at the most.

Many countries, including Canada and the Netherlands, monitored the coronavirus in wastewater early in the pandemic. The Global Water Pathogen Project holds a Database, dubbed COVIDPoops19, from global data.

The challenge in developing predictive models for wastewater is that they have to account for so many variables, including rainfall, which alter the content of the wastewater, Luca Lucentini, director of water quality at the ISS, told Reuters.

“The great advantage of sewage surveillance is that it photographs the base of the pyramid, the entire population, while epidemiological surveillance captures those who are being wiped down, so just the top,” La Rosa said.

The program includes 166 sampling points throughout Italy and 60 laboratories. Cities with more than 150,000 inhabitants are sampled twice a week and cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants once a week.

“But if these models are ready in a short time, we can intercept the trend early and provide useful data for making decisions about public health measures,” continues La Rosa.

This type of environmental screening can also identify less common variants that might evade swab surveillance, she said.

“Another thing we’re definitely going to do is revisit the older samples that we have in the archive to see, for example, when Omicron actually arrived in Italy,” added La Rosa.

In 2020, the ISS showed the presence of the coronavirus in sewage from Milan and Turin in December 2019, which was around the time China first alerted the world to the virus and showed a much earlier arrival in Italy than previously accepted.

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Reporting by Emilio Parodi Editing by Josephine Mason and Frances Kerry

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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