Ireland will start testing wastewater in order to track how Covid is spreading in local communities.
The National SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) Wastewater Surveillance Programme will begin in early May.
The programme will measure the level of SARS-CoV-2 in 68 wastewater catchment areas across the country and will operate as an early warning system for future possible waves of Covid.
A pilot study of the same nature involving three Irish wastewater treatment plants took place in 2020.
That project showed a very close correlation between the presence of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material in the wastewater and the daily number of new Covid-19 cases in the area.
Dr John Cuddihy, Director of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), said that monitoring wastewater for evidence of SARS-CoV-2 is an internationally recognised tool used to fight the spread of the virus.
“Analysis of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material in wastewater captures both symptomatic and asymptomatic people.
“It helps evaluate how effective specific public health measures are, and can be an important early warning sign of increasing SARS-CoV-2 activity in the community.”
Dr Cuddihy added that it can also pinpoint locations that need more Covid testing sites and preventative measures.
Ireland has over 1,100 public wastewater catchment areas in total, and 68 of these will be studied to ensure the largest population centres are captured.
At least two catchment areas per county are included, covering 84 per cent of the population connected to a public wastewater treatment plant.
Results from the programme will be reported to the HSE Public Health Departments, the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group (IEMAG), and the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).
The findings will inform testing strategy and will play a role in the initiation of preventive public health measures.
When results are available, they will also be posted on the HPSC’s website at regular intervals.
The programme has been developed by a specialist team, with input from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), HSE, HIU, the National Virus Reference Laboratory (NVRL), UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, and Irish Water.