Latvian scientists find traces of COVID-19 in wastewater

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Latvian scientists are developing a new monitoring method that will help determine the transfer of coronavirus in wastewater and the environment, said Riga Technical University (RTU) in a news release on May 19.

Scientists have found the presence of the virus in untreated wastewater but the virus was not found in the water after it was purified. 

Currently, the distribution of coronavirus in the environment, the duration of its survival, human exposure mechanisms and interaction with animals have not been sufficiently studied, but this information is important to decide on emergency activities as well as relaxing or removal of restrictions and prevention measures in the future, not only regarding coronavirus but possibly other viruses.

To understand the mechanism of coronavirus distribution, scientists chose wastewater as research site. Samples were taken from several wastewater systems in Latvia, and the presence of the virus has been detected in one of them, RTU said.

There is no evidence that the virus in sewers is able to cause further infections, nor is there a certainty regarding the concentration of the virus, as it is necessary to develop more precise methods of isolation and concentration.

The discovery has made it clear that "monitoring the sewer system can provide additional assurance when the spread of infection in a given area is over," said Tālis Juhna, head of the RTU Scientific Laboratory for Water Research.

The monitoring system will help to develop guidelines, for example, that employees of sewer services use protective masks, and that citizens close the lid before flushing.

Scientists will continue their research and study water samples from centralized wastewater treatment plants, hospitals, and cities over an extended period to improve the monitoring method.

The study is carried out by Riga Technical University together with the Latvian Biomedical Research and Studies Center (BMC) and the Institute of Food Safety, Animal Health and Environment (BIOR).

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