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National Covid-19 wastewater surveillance programme to begin next month

The programme will measure the level of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater within 68 wastewater catchment areas.

A NATIONAL COVID-19 wastewater surveillance programme is being launched in Ireland early next month. 

The programme will measure the level of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater within 68 wastewater catchment areas across the country and will operate as an early warning system for future possible waves of Covid-19 infection. 

The HSE said the programme will be an important part of the work being undertaken to monitor the prevalence of Covid-19 in communities across Ireland. 

“Monitoring wastewater for evidence of SARS-CoV-2 is an internationally recognised tool in many governments’ efforts to assess the rate of infection across the population, both as a whole and within individual communities,” Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) director Dr John Cuddihy said. 

“Analysis of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material in wastewater captures both symptomatic and asymptomatic people. As such, it helps evaluate how effective specific public health measures are, and can be an important early warning sign of increasing SARS-Cov-2 activity in the community,” Dr Cuddihy said. 

“It can also help inform those locations in which increased and enhanced SARS-Cov-2 testing and preventative measures might be of benefit.” 

Ireland has over 1,100 public wastewater catchment areas where wastewater is collected and conveyed for treatment. The HSE said it wouldn’t be practical nor feasible to undertake surveillance in each of these. 

To address this issue, 68 wastewater catchment areas, covering each county in Ireland, were identified and selected. 

The HSE said this will ensure the largest population centres are captured, and a comprehensive national environmental early warning surveillance system will be established.

The programme has been developed by a specialist team, with input from the HPSC, the HSE, HIU, the National Virus Reference Laboratory, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science and Irish Water. 

Results of the programme will be reported by the project team and communicated by the HPSC to key organisations including the HSE public health departments, the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group and the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). 

When results are available, they will be posted on the HPSC’s website regularly, the HSE said. 

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