Wastewater study shows no slowdown in spread of coronavirus

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Paljassaare waste water treatment plant in North Tallinn. Source: Kaupo Kalda/Tallinna Vesi

The was a high virus concentration in wastewater samples collected across Estonia this week, the latest results of the wastewater study led by the University of Tartu show. There are no signs of stabilization yet.

The latest study report results for the first week of March.

The study does not include results for Paide in central Estonia this week as samples did not give a reliable picture of the situation, the university said. Veljo Kisand, Associate Professor of Molecular Ecology at the University of Tartu, said the sample from Paide was probably affected by the huge amount of snowmelt that had overly diluted human waste water.

"The E. coli content in the sample was also 100–1,000 times lower than usual. Normally, large quantities of the bacteria reach the sewage from the human digestive tract. This is why the Paide sample cannot be regarded as a reliable reflection of the actual coronavirus concentration," Kisand said.

Lead researcher of the waste water study, Professor of Technology of Antimicrobial Compounds of the University of Tartu Tanel Tenson said the results have shown high virus concentration in samples collected from nearly all places in Estonia from the beginning of the year already. In some regions, the concentration of the virus is very high, and thus it is not yet possible to talk of any stabilisation in the situation.

"As researchers, we can monitor the situation and predict infection trends every week or two, but it is in the hands of each individual to slow down the spread of the virus. Let us avoid contacts, stay home if possible, and wear a mask in public places – this is the only way to curb the spread of the virus as soon as possible," Tenson pointed out.

Results of the wastewater study for the first week of March. Source: University of Tartu.

Waste water samples are collected at the beginning of every week in all Estonian county centres and cities with more than 10,000 inhabitants.

The study is a tool supporting the Health Board by providing early information to assess the spread of the virus before clinical cases are detected. The monitoring helps to find hidden outbreaks and observe changes in the dynamics of outbreaks. The Health Board is regularly informed of the results.

In the collection of samples, the University of Tartu cooperates with the Estonian Environmental Research Centre and water companies operating the waste water treatment plants of Estonian cities. Sewage samples are analysed at the laboratories of the University of Tartu Institute of Technology.

For more information and the interactive map with the previous results of the study, see the home page of the study "Detecting coronavirus in waste water".

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Editor: Helen Wright

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