LSU researchers tracking COVID-19 cases through wastewater testing
BATON ROUGE - Inside laboratories at LSU's veterinarian school, there's plenty of focus on COVID-19, including one effort to track where virus cases are located by analyzing wastewater.
"When people get the disease, they shed the virus into wastewater and into the sewage," Dr. John Pardue, an LSU engineering professor said. "By sampling the sewage over a broad area, what we can do is try to get a better sense of how many cases there are in the area being sampled."
This type of sample collection doesn't identify individual patients or track specific cases but can provide health officials with complementary data and even a heads up, possibly a week in advance, that cases may spike.
"This early warning system is very, very valuable because seven days is a lot of time to know ahead of time what you may be facing," Dr. Gus Kousoulas, LSU's Director of Pathobiological Sciences said. "Because then you could have social distancing, you could take other measures."
Right now, samples are only being collected in East Baton Rouge Parish, but in the future, they could be collected at any pumping station to see how much virus is in a certain area. Should the state take advantage of the program and its research, certain hotspots, congregant settings, and even universities could be specifically monitored.
"LSU or Southern, places where you have a lot of people concentrated," Pardue said. "It's all going to one spot. You can take a sample there and get a sense of the entire institutional picture about how the progress is going."
Pardue says they are currently from sampling from areas representing 50,000 people, allowing for researchers to comb through a vast stretch of the city. Going forward, he and Kousoulas are hopeful the virus info obtained from wastewater samples will give decision-makers a clearer picture of where the state stands in the COVID-19 response than just relying on testing alone.
"You're capturing not just from one person, but you're capturing from hundreds, or thousands, or even tens of thousands of people," Pardue said. "By going back day after day, you can get a sense of where the community is."