Thursday, 16 July 2020 08:26

Australian researchers find COVID-19 virus fragments in aircraft and ship wastewater

By
Dr Warish Ahmed in his CSIRO laboratory at Brisbane's Ecosciences precinct. Dr Warish Ahmed in his CSIRO laboratory at Brisbane's Ecosciences precinct. Courtesy CSIRO

Researchers from Australia's national science agency, the CSIRO, and the University of Queensland have sighted genetic fragments of the COVID-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2, after testing aircraft and cruise ship wastewater once these means of transport reached their destinations.

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.

“The ability to test wastewater from planes and cruise ships is another piece of the puzzle as we look to the future of travel and keeping Australians safe.”

CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall said it would help keep Australians safe if infection hotspots were pinpointed.

waste water2“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.


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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