Detail of coronavirus test sample generic istock COVID-19
Detail of coronavirus test sample generic istock COVID-19

COVID-19: Grafton’s sewer considered for further testing

GRAFTON's sewage system is being considered as a potential site for future testing for COVID-19 in the ongoing surveillance against the disease.

Five sewage outfalls within the Northern NSW Local Health District have been tested for the virus since August, with the sites at Byron, Ocean Shores, Kingscliff, Hastings Point and Ballina checked

Only the Byron sewage site showed traces of the COVID-19 virus in its first test in August.

According to NSW Health, testing for SARS-CoV-2 fragments in sewage is a specialised test and is not routinely available.

The current testing locations have been decided on by a steering committee and based upon areas of concern as directed by the NSW Chief Health Officer.

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Clarence Valley Council manager of water cycle Greg Mashiah said he had inquired about including the Clarence Valley in testing around four weeks ago, and at the time was told it was not an area of concern.

However, responding to questions from The Daily Examiner, a NSW Health spokeswoman said as the pandemic response continued, locations of interest can change and laboratory capacity has been increased to allow for additional sites to be added.

"Grafton is being assessed as a potential site for future testing," she said.

The latest sewage test results also show that Coffs Harbour's sewage was tested for the first time in the week of October 3.

In the last week there were four detections of SARS-CoV-2 in sewage across the state.

NSW Sewage testing results across the North Coast
NSW Sewage testing results across the North Coast

The latest epidemiology report states that two detections from the catchment areas of the North Richmond and West Camden sewage treatment plants were not associated with previously reported cases (since October 3 there has been one case reported who resides in the West Camden sewage treatment plant catchment area).

"However, finding traces of the virus in sewage samples could mean there were recently recovered cases or undiagnosed cases in the area. People who live or work in the surrounding areas, including the Hawkesbury and South Western Sydney areas, have been urged to get tested if symptoms present," it stated.

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Director of North Coast Public Health Unit Paul Corben said the research program tests untreated sewage for fragments of the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) virus to provide data to support NSW Health's pandemic response.

"Detection of virus fragments in sewage can be due to shedding of the virus by someone who may have previously had the illness, with the virus 'shedding' through their system for up to four weeks after their recovery," he said.

"A positive sewage result can also provide early warning of potential virus introduction into areas where transmission is not expected or not thought to occur."

Mr Corben said as well as being present in stools, viral fragments can enter the sewer when washed off hands and bodies through sinks and showers.

"Usual sewage treatment processes inactivate, or kill, the COVID-19 virus, and sewage discharge to the environment is regulated by the NSW EPA," he said.

More information can be found at the NSW Health website at: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/covid-19/Pages/sewage-surveillance.aspx



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