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Wastewater COVID-19 surveillance expands to Vancouver Island, Interior

The program was previously limited to just five Lower Mainland water treatment plants.
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Work is underway to set up wastewater sampling in Northern Health.

Wastewater surveillance for COVID-19 has expanded to Vancouver Island and the B.C. Interior.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s wastewater testing program was previously limited to five Lower Mainland water treatment plants, but will now include Victoria, Nanaimo, the Comox Valley, Kelowna, Kamloops and Penticton.

Those with COVID-19 shed the virus through their feces, allowing health authorities to track its spread, now that most people rely on home-based tests.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said expanding wastewater surveillance provides an additional data source for public health officials to monitor COVID-19 circulation.

“The BCCDC has been at the leading edge of this work throughout the pandemic, and I am very proud of their efforts to provide valuable, scientific data to support our pandemic response.”

B.C.’s COVID-19 wastewater surveillance program is part of “pan-Canadian wastewater network” that feeds data into a national program, the BCCDC said.

The program may be used to test wastewater for other viruses like influenza, as well as bacteria and substances that are important in assessing population health, it said.

Natalie Prystajecky, lead for the wastewater project and head of the Environmental Microbiology program at the BCCDC Public Health Laboratory, said while using wastewater to understand the dynamics of disease is not new, it was only during the pandemic that the surveillance tool was widely adopted around the world.

Data is now available from Island and Interior health authorities and can be found on the BCCDC wastewater dashboard. Work is ongoing to set up wastewater sampling in Northern Health.

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