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Wastewater COVID-19 surveillance expands to Vancouver Island, Interior

The program was previously limited to just five Lower Mainland water treatment plants.
Work is underway to set up wastewater sampling in Northern Health.

Wastewater surveillance for COVID-19 has expanded to the B.C. Interior and Vancouver Island.

The BC Centre for Disease Control’s wastewater testing program was previously limited to just five Lower Mainland water treatment plants, but will now also include Kelowna, Kamloops, Penticton, Victoria, Nanaimo and the Comox Valley.

“The information we receive from wastewater is valuable in conjunction with other data to help us understand the impact of COVID-19 and how it is spreading in our communities,” says Natalie Prystajecky, lead of the wastewater project and head for the Environmental Microbiology program at the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) Public Health Laboratory.

“While using wastewater to understand the dynamics of disease is not new; it was only during the pandemic that this surveillance tool was widely adopted around the world.”

People with COVID-19 shed the virus through their feces, allowing health authorities to track its spread now that most people rely on home-based tests.

“As I often report in respiratory illness briefings, expanding wastewater surveillance is very helpful and provides an additional data source for public health to monitor COVID-19 circulation and inform strategies to protect people from severe illness,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer.

“The BCCDC has been at the leading edge of this work throughout the pandemic, and I am very proud of their efforts to provide valuable, scientific data to support our pandemic response.”

B.C.’s COVID-19 wastewater surveillance program is part of “pan-Canadian wastewater network” that feeds data into a national program, said the BCCDC.

The program may be used to test wastewater for other viruses like influenza, as well as bacteria and substances that are important in assessing population health.

Data is now available from Interior and Island health authorities and can now be found on the BCCDC wastewater dashboard. Work is ongoing to set up wastewater sampling in Northern Health.