In a statement the CSIRO said this could be a step forward in using this test as an additional public health management tool. The findings were reported in the Journal of Travel Medicine.
Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews said Australian scientists were helping in the fight against the coronavirus through their outstanding work.
“Our science and research communities are among our greatest assets in our efforts to not only overcome this pandemic, but also to assist in the economic recovery from COVID-19,” she said.
CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall said it would help keep Australians safe if infection hotspots were pinpointed.
“Responding to a pandemic is not just about the race for a vaccine, Australian science is supporting our economic recovery by delivering for partners like Qantas,” Dr Marshall said.
“Our relationship with air travel goes back to the 1960s, and today our unique coatings already protect aircraft, so it’s great to be trusted to keep Australia flying while helping to stay ahead of any potential new outbreaks.”
Lead author and CSIRO researcher Warish Ahmed said the virus fragments in the wastewater were unviable, and hence not infectious.
“The study indicates that surveillance of wastewater from large transport vessels with their own sanitation systems has potential as a parallel data source to prioritise clinical testing among disembarking passengers,” he said.
Paper co-author and Professor Jochen Mueller (seen at right in a CSIRO-supplied photo), from UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences, said this tool could help as governments and transport industries developed plans to minimise transmission associated with resuming international travel.
“This could provide additional peace of mind to track and manage infection and play an important role in opening up long-haul flights or cruises resuming,” Professor Mueller said.
The test provides an early warning of infection, as the virus sheds in the stools of infected passengers even before they show symptoms.