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Public health partnership monitoring wastewater for signs of flu and RSV
sewer water
Healthy Central Valley Together is monitoring Turlock’s wastewater system for diseases, such as the flu and COVID-19, to better inform healthcare officials.

How bad is the flu season going to be this winter?

Healthy Central Valley Together will help eight cities in three Valley counties answer that question.

HCVT on Dec. 1 began monitoring for influenza A and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) through the wastewater to help public health officials and residents in Stanislaus, Merced and Yolo counties track and respond to those infectious diseases.

The public-health collaborative has been monitoring for genetic markers of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) in participating communities’ sewage for the past eight months and added monkeypox (MPX) this summer. The participating communities are Turlock, Modesto, Merced, Los Banos, Davis, Esparto, Winters and Woodland. Some of Ceres’ effluent is sent to Turlock.

“Recent wastewater sampling for COVID-19 also indicates increasing levels of COVID-19 circulating in the Modesto area,” said new Stanislaus County Public Health Officer Dr. Thea Papasozomenos. ”Information provided by wastewater sampling is an important surveillance tool for us, and gives Public Health a sense of the spread of COVID-19 in our community, including whether the spread is increasing, decreasing, or staying about the same. This is especially helpful to Public Health right now because the information we currently receive on the number of positive COVID-19 test results is limited compared to earlier in the pandemic. Many people who are ill now self-perform over-the-counter COVID-19 tests. While these are great tools and provide convenience, the test results are not reported to public health. Wastewater sampling provides Public Health departments with information on COVID-19 that wouldn’t otherwise be available.”

HCVT is a partnership between UC Merced, UC Davis public health agencies and communities that works to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other pathogens by using wastewater to inform public health strategies.

The addition of flu and RSV comes as cases of those viruses have been rising dramatically nationally. Those diseases share several symptoms (common with SARS-CoV-2 as well), which makes community-wide tracking more challenging. Because wastewater monitoring looks for genetic materials specific to each virus and includes everyone who uses a sewage system, it provides an accurate view of infections across the entire population.

The expansion in the number of diseases tracked is the result of HCVT joining WastewaterSCAN, a national effort based at Stanford University to spread a leading approach for monitoring diseases through municipal wastewater systems to inform public health responses locally and nationally. HCVT independently has been using WastewaterSCAN’s analytical methods, all of which are publicly available, from the start of its work. The closer alignment means HCVT will be able to access more rapidly any new testing for additional pathogens that WastewaterSCAN adopts.

Results from wastewater monitoring for flu and RSV will begin to be available at later this month, along with continued reporting of COVID-19 and MPX data.