Research Project to Track Presence of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia Wastewater

Press release written by Research Nova Scotia.

Researchers across Nova Scotia are launching a project aimed at detecting the presence of the virus that causes COVID-19 in human wastewater, helping to identify the potential presence of the virus quickly and before it can spread.

Building on the recent results of a pilot study, the research team has begun to collect samples in locations throughout the province. Locations have been selected by the research team in conjunction with provincial public health officials and the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA).

“Together we are working to develop a wastewater surveillance program on a provincial scale that will provide early and accurate detection of SARS-CoV-2, which could ultimately enable proactive and preventative COVID-19 health and economic response measures,” says lead researcher Dr. Graham Gagnon of Dalhousie University.

Although COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, the genetic material of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in human wastewater. This virus — SARS-CoV-2 — survives longer in the gastrointestinal tract than in the respiratory tract. As such, wastewater may be used to determine the presence of the virus either before someone develops symptoms, receives a positive test result or is an asymptomatic carrier of the virus.

Research Nova Scotia (RNS) convened the research team to help shape the direction, scope and scale of this project, one of 19 COVID-related research projects funded by RNS since March. The project cost is estimated at $852,000 and includes staff, equipment, travel, materials and testing. Provincial funding for the project has been allocated from the initial $50-million contribution to the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Response Council.

“This research project was driven by the need to develop early COVID detection systems,” says Stefan Leslie, CEO of Research Nova Scotia. “As a funder and partner, we were pleased to work with some of the province’s leading researchers to help shape this project for the broadest possible benefit to Nova Scotians.”

Lead researchers, Dr. Gagnon and Dr. Amina Stoddart of Dalhousie University, are joined by co-investigators at Halifax Water, Acadia University, Cape Breton University and St. Francis Xavier University. The 18-member project team includes other scientists, researchers, graduate research assistants and students. The technology used is LuminUltra’s wastewater testing solution, which was developed in partnership with Dalhousie University.

“At LuminUltra we have worked to make this early-warning surveillance technology available to as many communities as possible. It is great to see this expansion of wastewater testing into more locations throughout Nova Scotia.” Pat Whalen, CEO of LuminUltra.