San Francisco International Airport, in collaboration with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has started a program to test aircraft wastewater for emerging coronaviruses. Even if a person is not exhibiting symptoms, they can still detect traces of the virus causing Covid-19 in their feces.
Airport officials announced on Tuesday that the CDC partner Concentric by Ginkgo - the biosecurity unit and public health division of Boston's synthetic biology company Ginkgo Bioworks - has installed an automated device to collect wastewater samples regularly from international flights landing at SFO. These combined wastewater samples will then be sent to labs for testing.
In a press release on Tuesday, Dr. Cindy Friedman of the CDC's Travelers' Health Branch said, "As we saw with the COVID-19 Pandemic, pathogens spread rapidly across the globe and impact travel and trade." Testing of aircraft wastewater can help detect new COVID-19 strains and other pathogens which can cause pandemics and outbreaks. CDC is grateful for the collaboration between SFO and CDC to enhance these efforts.
Ivar Satero, the Airport Director at SFO, announced that SFO would be the first airport in the world to begin this pilot program. Airport Director Ivar Satero said in the announcement that SFO was also involved with supplying wastewater samples from its wastewater treatment plant to the University of California San Francisco Medical Center for the identification of emerging coronavirus variations.
Tests of aircraft wastewater involve collecting sewage from commercial passenger aircraft.
Matt McKnight told CNN that you can remove it from the plane in less than two minutes and quickly connect it to a network of labs. We manage this.
Scientists scan the wastewater samples once they arrive at a lab for testing to look for viruses. They can be known or unknown, like emerging variants of SARS CoV-2, a coronavirus which causes Covid-19. Once samples are positive for the virus they will be subjected to genome sequencing, which can take up to 7 days. This allows scientists to determine exactly what variant of virus it is. Scientists can then analyze the results and send their findings to CDC.
McKnight stated that monitoring sewage for coronavirus variants has been 'validated,' and is no longer a pilot project. The next logical step would be to monitor the sewage using airplanes.
Covid-19 response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha of the White House said it is still important to monitor wastewater to detect new variants.
Jha noted that the test results are no longer as comprehensive 'because people don't test as often', due to the relaxation of testing requirements, and the increase in testing fatigue.
"When I try to evaluate where we stand with regards to infections, I examine wastewater data. This will continue. He said that this will continue and wastewater covers most Americans. When I try to gauge the severity of an illness, it's by hospitalizations and death.
McKnight stated in a Tuesday statement that even though the declaration of public health emergency is ending, we must continue to use the biosecurity tools developed over the last few years and scaled-up to track the evolution of this virus and other emerging pathsogens. One of these key tools is wastewater monitoring.
We want biosecurity, where you use a suite technologies to create an infectious disease monitoring system that acts as a radar to enable response, to be as commonplace as cybersecurity which protects our phones and inboxes.