Sewage flushed down Norwich loos to be tested for coronavirus
- Credit: Bangor University
Sewage at a treatment works near Norwich is to be tested for traces of coronavirus.
Whitlingham Sewage Treatment Works at Kirby Bedon, on the outskirts of the city, is one of 90 across the country providing an early warning for local outbreaks and sharing data with NHS Test and Trace.
The government-led scheme analysing sewage for traces of Covid-19, which was first announced in June, has helped officials spot spikes in cases in areas where relatively few people were being tested, according to the Environmental Department (Defra).
MORE: Animated maps show rise and fall of coronavirus in your areaDefra said the project had already worked successfully in an area of the south west of England, where sewage sampling showed a spike in coronavirus material despite relatively few people getting tested.
The programme is being rolled out to include sewage works dealing with waste from almost a quarter of the population of England, including that flushed in Norwich.
Fragments of the coronavirus are passed out from people’s bodies when they use the toilet. The detection of the material, which is not infectious, can indicate when a local community is having a spike in cases.
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Officials said the results can give local health teams a clearer idea of infection rates by identifying where there are high numbers, particularly of asymptomatic carriers and people before they start showing symptoms.
The testing is being led by the Environment Agency’s Starcross laboratory in Exeter.
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Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “This is a significant step forward in giving us a clearer idea of infection rates both nationally and locally, particularly in areas where there may be large numbers of people who aren’t showing any symptoms and therefore aren’t seeking tests.
“NHS Test and Trace is able to use the science to ensure local health leads are alerted and can take action.”
Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, said: “Sewage is a rich source of information about community health.”
MORE: Coronavirus cases ‘stabilising’ in Norfolk, county’s health chief saysRun by Anglian Water, Whitlingham Sewage Treatment Works deals with waste water for around 300,000 people and businesses, some 2,200 litres a second.
The treatment plant dates back to 1830 when it opened after a cholera epidemic forced the provision of better wastewater management.
Prior to that sewage was pumped to the Kirby Hills and allowed to percolate down through the land and into the river.