Photo: Michael Donoghue
The COVID-19 wastewater surveillance program has expanded, and data is now available from communities in Interior and Island Health.
“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. The wastewater program involves collecting samples from wastewater treatment facilities and testing them for the virus.
“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,” says 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.”
Until recently, wastewater was collected from five Lower Mainland facilities. To expand the program, the BCCDC Public Health Laboratory has been working with regional health authorities and local utilities to bring wastewater testing to additional communities.
“Monitoring wastewater in the B.C. interior supports Interior Health’s continued COVID-19 response,” says Dr. Silvina Mema, Medical Health Officer for Interior Health. “This information allows us to better understand the COVID-19 epidemiology in the region and adds to the provincial picture. We are glad to be collaborating with the BCCDC and local governments on this project.”
“Island Health is pleased to join the provincial wastewater surveillance system,” says Dr. Réka Gustafson, Island Health’s chief medical health officer. “We look forward to learning how this new technology will evolve to inform our understanding of pathogens in our population.”
The COVID-19 wastewater surveillance program is part of pan-Canadian wastewater network where data feeds into a national surveillance program. The program is now working to develop ways to test wastewater for other viruses like influenza, as well as bacteria and substances that are important in assessing population health.
“Wastewater is a reliable and cost-effective surveillance approach,” says Prystajecky. “It started as a small research project and is now a program at BCCDC Public Health Laboratory.”
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.
- The concentration of the COVID-19 in wastewater over time provides a sense of whether the virus is present and spreading in the community.
- The wastewater surveillance program started as a research program, funded by Health Canada, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Metro Vancouver and the BCCDC Foundation for Public Health. Working with laboratories across Canada, the BCCDC Public Health Laboratory helped establish methods for sampling and testing wastewater.
- During the research phase of this program, the BCCDC collected samples in the Lower Mainland and found wastewater data provides a potentially earlier signal of the onset and progression of SARS-CoV-2 waves in the community.
- In addition to the Lower Mainland sites, samples are collected from:
- Island Health: Capital Regional District (Victoria), Nanaimo, Comox Valley Regional District
- Interior Health: Kelowna, Kamloops, Penticton
The BC Centre for Disease Control, a part of the Provincial Health Services Authority, provides public health leadership through surveillance, detection, treatment, prevention and consultation services. The Centre provides diagnostic and treatment services for people with diseases of public health importance, and analytical and policy support to all levels of government and health authorities. The BCCDC also provides health promotion and prevention services to reduce the burden of chronic disease, preventable injury and environmental health risks. For more, visit www.bccdc.ca or follow us on Twitter @CDCofBC. he Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) provides specialized health care services and programs to communities across British Columbia, the territories of many distinct First Nations. We are grateful to all the First Nations who have cared for and nurtured this land for all time, including the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), and səlil̓w̓ətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations on whose unceded and ancestral territory our head office is located. We work in partnership with other B.C. health authorities and the provincial government to deliver province-wide solutions that improve the health of British Columbians. For more information, visit www.phsa.ca or follow us @PHSAofBC.
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