UK researchers working on study to see how COVID-19 virus survives in water

WKYT News at 6:00 PM
Published: Sep. 3, 2020 at 5:52 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - UK researchers are working on a study to see how the COVID-19 virus survives in water.

Dr. James Keck was volunteering in Madagascar when the COVID-19 virus started to spread across the globe.

He told WKYT’S Victor Puente that was his inspiration for a study that uses wastewater, where testing might not otherwise be available.

“Can we test looking for the virus and know that it’s in a community before there’s even testing of people?” Dr. Keck said.

He reached out to two colleagues at the University of Kentucky.

The first had experience developing tests for things like HIV and cancer. Could that technology work to identify the markers for COVID, known as RNA.

“Having a test, and this doesn’t exist yet, having a test you could take out into the field, do the sampling, and actually do a lot of the analysis right there in the field, I think would have a lot of value and really allow us to identify outbreaks much faster,” Dr. Scott Berry said.

The second has a background studying wastewater. She started looking at how COVID-19 reacts, and breaks down, in different environments.

“What I’m looking at in the lab is UV light, pH, and different temperatures as well,” Dr. Shakira Hobbs said.

That work could let public health officials know when an outbreak is coming.

“Not everyone is experiencing or showing symptoms of having the coronavirus, so this can be an early detection method if that coronavirus is present or if they are actively experiencing some form of the pandemic,” Dr. Hobbs said.

And knowing how the virus breaks down could let them know how infected a population may be.

“It’s definitely a lot of thinking on your feet. A lot of adapting to new situations. So yeah it can be quite challenging, but also really exciting. None of us knew we were going to be working on this a year ago,” Dr. Berry said.

“We’re not going to solve the equation on our own but we are going to contribute some hopefully important pieces that have not yet been studied to our knowledge to help ourselves and others or working at this to be able to better interpret the results of the wastewater testing,” Dr. Keck said.

Dr. Keck said so far there has been no evidence that a person could catch the COVID virus from wastewater.

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