CDC Talking to Airlines About Aircraft Wastewater Testing

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is talking with airlines about testing aircraft wastewater for the coronavirus, the federal agency told NBC News.

Since September 2021, the CDC has been testing international travelers for Covid on a voluntary basis using nasal swabs. The program now includes seven major airports. Expanding that surveillance to include wastewater could allow the CDC to collect more data on emerging variants.

The United States has been monitoring wastewater for the coronavirus since the CDC launched its National Wastewater Surveillance System in September 2020. But those tests mostly involve wastewater from homes or buildings, not samples from airports or airplanes.

“CDC is exploring all options to help slow the introduction of new variants into the United States from other countries. Previous Wastewater surveillance Covid-19 has proven to be a valuable tool, and monitoring wastewater from aircraft could be an option,” CDC press officer Scott Pauley told NBC News.

political first reported that the agency was considering the possibility of conducting wastewater tests on airplanes.

A study published Thursday in the journal PLOS Global Public Health shows how this approach could be useful: a team of researchers from Bangor University in Wales found that the coronavirus was circulating widely in wastewater from airports and aircraft in the UK, including when covid tests were required for the unvaccinated. passengers

Those results indicate that sampling the aircraft’s wastewater could detect asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic infections that could be missed by Covid tests, in addition to detecting other viruses or bacteria.

“The more information you have, the more accurate decisions you can make,” said Kata Farkas, one of the study’s authors and a postdoctoral research officer at Bangor University. “I think wastewater-based surveillance is a very good tool to support any decision that is made about public health.”

a new report of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, also published Thursday, reached a similar conclusion. He suggested that wastewater monitoring could provide critical data on existing or emerging pathogens, and also outlined a vision for how the existing system should be expanded and operated in the future.

From October, more than 1250 sites they were testing wastewater in the US but most counties still don’t have the funds, capacity or willingness to sample their wastewater. So, according to the report, a more robust system should detect multiple pathogens at once and add sampling sites in underserved areas and at specific outposts like sports venues, zoos or major airports.

Getting the most out of wastewater monitoring

Wastewater testing can provide different information depending on where the samples are collected. Those at an airport, dormitory or long-term care facility, for example, might offer a more granular view than broader community-wide tests.

“If you have a new variant coming through and you have a sewage sample, it’s going to be more concentrated and it’s coming out of a smaller sewer shed or an airport,” said Sandra McLellan, a professor of freshwater sciences at the University of Wisconsin. Milwaukee, which was not involved in either report. “If you only look in municipal wastewater, you might miss it.”

While individual aircraft samples are unlikely to represent population-level trends, they offer a different advantage, according to Heather Bischel, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Davis: Scientists can trace a pathogen back to a specific geographic area. source.

“Having that kind of information about our ports of entry would certainly give a warning about where new spread could occur,” said Bischel, who was not involved in the reports.

Farkas said he thinks it would be more useful to test wastewater from long international flights, as more passengers are likely to use the plane’s toilets. But he also said there could be legal and political barriers to taking samples directly from planes.

“Some countries would consider the plane their own territory, and if you want to get something out of it, you are basically stealing from another country, to put it bluntly,” Farkas said.

For their new study, Farkas and his team analyzed wastewater samples from three UK airports (Heathrow, Edinburgh and Bristol) over three weeks in March 2022. Thirty-two samples came from aircraft wastewater, while another 150 they came from sewers near airport terminals or wastewater. treatment plants associated with Edinburgh airport.

All samples collected at Heathrow and Bristol airports tested positive for coronavirus, with 85% of samples from Edinburgh airport testing positive.

Detect the next pandemic threat

In addition to the coronavirus, the CDC has used wastewater data to test for the mpox virus (formerly called monkeypox) and polio.

The National Academies report suggested that a larger national system could also detect influenza, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and enterovirus D68a common childhood virus that can cause muscle weakness or paralysis in rare cases.

“Basically, anything found in feces or urine would end up in sewage,” Farkas said.

But identifying new viruses or bacteria from wastewater can be difficult if scientists don’t know what signatures to look for.

“If we were to sequence everything in wastewater, there’s a lot of it in there, so our ability to resolve a single new pathogen is somewhat limited,” said John Scott Meschke, a microbiologist at the University of Washington and a member of the committee that wrote the paper. report from the National Academies, he said in a webinar on Thursday.

“Very novel pathogens continue to be one of the blind spots we have,” he added.

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