Researchers tested Metro Vancouver's wastewater for fragments of COVID virus. Here's what they found.

New research from the University of British Columbia suggests that testing wastewater can help health officials determine levels of COVID-19 infection in a community, including the rise of variants of concern.

The research, led by UBC professor Dr. Ryan Ziels, analyzed sewage samples from five municipal wastewater plants in the Metro Vancouver region between February and April, 2021, which was a time of increasing COVID-19 case counts.

“The novel coronavirus can be shed in feces, and so many groups around the world have shown that we can detect the frequency or abundance of specific (COVID-19) mutations ... in municipal wastewater,” Ziels said.

Researchers used handheld DNA sequencers to analyze coronavirus genome fragments in the samples. The results showed that viral concentrations in the wastewater may signal future changes in hospitalizations or case numbers in the region.

“We provide this information to our health authorities as an additional aid in their public health strategies,” Ziels said in a statement.

Furthermore, the rapid DNA sequencing means there’s a quick turnaround time for the testing results.

“We provide reports to update our medical health officers in as little as three to four days from sample collection,” he said.