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Sewage water research shows KZN is in third wave

Sewage water research team
Picture: The COVID-19 research team at IWWT, (from left to right) Dr Oluyemi Awolusi, Mr Kriveshin Pillay, Prof Sheena Kumari, Prof Faizal Bux (Director), Dr Leanne Pillay and Dr Dennis Amoah / Supplied

By Kaya 959 News

An analysis of wastewater has revealed that KwaZulu-Natal has joined Gauteng, the Northern Cape and the Free State in the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Durban University’s Institute for Water and Wastewater Technology has revealed that its recent analysis indicated that KwaZulu-Natal is already experiencing the third wave of COVID-19 infections.

Led by the award-winning Professor Faizal Bux and assisted by Professor Sheena Kumari, the institute plays a critical role in monitoring and tracking COVID-19 infection spread in Durban. According to the team, the peak of the second wave in South Africa occurred in January 2021, with an average of 40 000 active cases in KZN.

Bux said as a metro, the eThekwini Municipality is a good reflection of the pandemic trend in KZN.

He said the team revealed that the viral loads at the Central Wastewater Treatment Plant during this peak period averaged at 4.72 log copies per 100 ml.

“However, viral loads over the last four weeks (11 – 27 May 2021) averaged at 5.57 log copies per 100 ml of wastewater, which was far higher than what was observed during the peak of the second wave, indicating that eThekwini Municipality may already be experiencing the third wave of COVID-19 infections – and that there was a greater number of infected individuals within the community than what is currently being reported,” he said.

Active cases rise in KZN

Professor Bux said they had used a scientific tool, Wastewater Based Epidemiology (WBE), which was based on the monitoring and constant analysis of viral particles shed in the stool of both symptomatic and asymptomatic infected individuals, by examining wastewater from wastewater treatment plants.

According to the research team, monitoring the changes in viral loads in wastewater over time allows them to gain insight into the levels of infection within communities.

He said the Central Wastewater Treatment Plant in Durban which currently services around 61 suburbs within the eThekwini Municipality, has been monitored by the IWWT team at DUT since July 2020.

Bux said monitoring of this treatment plant has revealed that there was a clear correlation between the viral loads detected in wastewater and the number of reported clinical cases in KZN.

“According to recent clinical data, the number of active cases in KZN and the eThekwini Municipality began to rise steadily since 20 April 2021.

“However, we have started observing the spike in viral loads in wastewater since 30 March 2021, almost 3 weeks before the actual clinically confirmed cases were reported,” he said.

Predictive tool for COVID-19 infections

Bux said this indicates that wastewater-based epidemiology may be used as a predictive tool for surges in COVID-19 infections and that frequent monitoring is required for future wave predictions.

Bux said this technology can and should be expanded for application at sub-district level by testing sewage from sewer networks servicing suburbs.

The DUT team at the IWWT believes there may be more asymptomatic carriers in the community that could potentially spread the virus.

They have shared these key findings with the relevant authorities including the provincial Department of Health (KZN DOH) and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

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