UNLV Wastewater program used to track COVID-19 in our sewers

Local News

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The sewers in Southern Nevada can tell a lot about what’s happening in our community.

Wastewater is helping UNLV scientists determine what kind of influenza strains exist and where. Eventually, this information will help researchers develop vaccines faster.

Edwin Oh, Associate Professor at the UNLV School of Medicine says, “It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it.”

UNLV research assistant Hayley Baker and student Nabih Ghani are collecting wastewater for science.

“It’s rather remarkable what kind of information can be gathered from a community without having to test a single person,” Baker said regarding looking for influenza in the sewer.

“Our fecal matter pretty much contains a lot of information about ourselves,” Baker added.

Edwin Oh started this wastewater surveillance program to track COVID-19. He says the accuracy is spot-on.

“This is a technology that’s really giving us more information than we ever thought possible.”

Oh and his team have spent countless hours collecting, analyzing and sequencing, and sharing their data. They are working in tandem with the Southern Nevada Water Authority and Southern Nevada Health District.

He says they can get real-time results within 24 hours.

“With this wastewater, we can also tell whether the virus is mutating in Boulder City in a slightly different way than North Las Vegas.”

Instead of guessing which flu strain might be headed our way, Oh says, “The statistics right now are something like 40-60 % of the time the vaccine is efficient.”

The global collaboration could ultimately mean a more effective vaccine.

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