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Wednesday, December 9, 2020

SD1, NKY Health Department Researching Covid-19 Early Alert System in Northern Kentucky

Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky Expands Support for
COVID-19 Early Alert System in Northern Kentucky

Researchers at the University of Louisville (UofL) have been working with Sanitation District No. 1 (SD1) of Northern Kentucky and the Northern Kentucky Health Department (NKY Health) to determine if testing wastewater for the virus that causes COVID-19 could provide an early warning for increasing COVID-19 infections.

Samples from eight sites across Campbell, Boone and Kenton counties along Kentucky’s northern border are collected weekly by SD1 and sent to UofL and research collaborators at Eurofins Scientific in Louisville for virus analysis.

“NKY Health has been working closely with SD1 and research collaborators in Louisville to build a sewage testing program to provide additional COVID-19 data in Northern Kentucky,” said Dr. Lynne Saddler, District Director of Health for NKY Health. “This is important work that will help us better understand the spread of COVID-19 in our communities and the public health strategies to control the spread.”

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The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky has expanded its support for this project, which may provide an opportunity for early interventions to treat patients and help prevent further spread of COVID-19. Grants from the Foundation now total $28,000 and will allow the project, which began in in October, to continue through December.

“Our goal is to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to provide early intervention for those who may have contracted the disease, especially those members of our population who may be more vulnerable to serious complications from this coronavirus,” said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation.

SD1 staff collect the samples for this research as part of their routine sampling efforts.  Wastewater operators and lab staff have personal protective equipment and follow best practice guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in their daily work.  

The laboratories at UofL and Eurofins use RT-PCR tests, a technique for detecting genetic material of the virus, to count copies of SARS-CoV-2 virus RNA in the wastewater samples. This type of testing is known as wastewater-based epidemiology and has been used for many years to detect disease in communities.

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists around the world were hopeful that wastewater monitoring could be used as an early-detection method to identify areas with increases in infections. Genetic material from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, can appear in wastewater up to a week before a person tests positive. Researchers at UofL and a health geographer from NKY Health are comparing fluctuations in the amount of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material and reported active cases to determine any correlations.

As a part of the latest grant, UofL will develop reports for the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky to share with local and state health departments and host a webinar to share the study results with the public.

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