A University of Wyoming laboratory is testing the influence of Wyoming cities on the virus that causes COVID-19 to help the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory determine disease trends in the state.
Wastewater from about 30 Wyoming cities is sampled, with UW laboratory tests for six communities and the public health laboratory the others, says Bledar Bisha, associate professor and head of the Department of Animal Science at UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The effort is part of a $ 800,000 grant from the Wyoming Department of Health.
The process may indicate whether there is a tendency for increasing positive samples as well as higher levels of virus, which may indicate whether the disease is eating in a community. The test does not accurately determine the number of cases, Bisha says.
UW tests wastewater from Cowley, Deaver, Hudson, Laramie, Pinedale and Powell. Results from these cities plus the others are at https://covidwastewatermonitor.wyo.gov.
Dots with a red outline indicate increasing rates. Recently, Cowley, Gillette, Green River, Laramie, Riverton and Worland are showing rising rates.
The UW lab tests two samples a week taken over a 24-hour period by employees in a city, says graduate student Alexys McGuire of Akron, Colo., Who leads the project and is assisted by undergraduate students.
The test detects the viral nucleic acid, which is the ribonucleic acid (RNA). The target RNA is evidence of the virus, and the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) process used makes millions of copies of the RNA, says Bisha. The test does not replicate the virus, only RNA.
Samples are taken before the influencer is treated. Samples are received overnight and incubated in a water bath to kill any potential virus outside the tubes, McGuire says.
“Then we extract the RNA from the sample and use PCR that tells us how much of the COVID-19 genome is actually in each sample,” McGuire says.
Each sample takes four to five hours to test.
COVID-19 is considered a respiratory disease, but the receptors to which the virus binds are also found in the gastrointestinal tract. The infected people shed the virus through feces.
The tool was used to detect polio cases in the 1930s and recently used for it in developing countries.
Wyoming results show that the prevalence of COVID-19 fluctuates in communities.
“We definitely see some weeks where there is greater prevalence, and sometimes where it is not so prevalent,” says Kelly Woodruff, from Laramie, who oversees the lab.
Trends have changed in the fall months.
“We’ve seen increased trends that actually correspond to the increased hospitalization,” Bisha says. “I would say that hospitalizations are largely back to the highest rate we saw at the height of the pandemic.”
Prices rose in September, and McGuire says trends in wastewater performance appear to precede clinical data – sometimes by weeks – because symptoms take time to occur in a body.
Mutations of the virus can be detected by testing for specific nucleic acids. Bisha says the SARS-CoV-2 virus variant from the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 is now almost gone.
The Delta variant is widespread now, and Bisha says Delta is much more contagious than the original virus. Testing would look for specific sequences that encode a unique change in the amino acids of the Delta variant virus.
“I would say that the variant in our region is identified in 99 percent of cases now,” Bisha says. “We will be set up to potentially look at the emergence of other variants that may happen. The Mu variant is a variant that is becoming more and more interesting to us who are involved in monitoring, and which may be the next thing to monitor after Delta. ”
Bisha adds that viruses do not survive for extended periods in the environment.
“People have viewed wastewater as a vehicle for transmission, and there have been no recorded cases of transmission through wastewater,” he says.
Bisha warns against relaxing in health practices if there are no positive samples in a community’s wastewater.
“There can be many different reasons why wastewater sampling does not absorb a potential increase,” he says. “And I would also warn against panicking and taking public health measures based on wastewater samples alone.”
He says the test is a prediction tool that assesses trends and should be supported by clinical testing and other auxiliary methods for assessing a community.