TESTING: After viral fragments of COVID-19 were detected in Airlie Beach sewage, Queensland Health revealed the Southern Downs is also being tested. Picture: Dan Peled
TESTING: After viral fragments of COVID-19 were detected in Airlie Beach sewage, Queensland Health revealed the Southern Downs is also being tested. Picture: Dan Peled

Queensland Health testing Southern Downs sewage for COVID

AFTER viral fragments of COVID-19 were detected in Airlie Beach sewage, Queensland Health revealed Warwick and Stanthorpe are also being tested.

A Queensland Health spokesman said the pilot program, which began in July, will continue until late October, and if viral fragments of COVID-19 are detected within the Southern Downs region, the community will be notified.

Regions across the state are currently undergoing a wastewater surveillance pilot program looking for undetected cases of the virus which could help keep COVID-19 out of Queensland for good.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said the pilot, a collaboration between Queensland Health, University of Queensland and CSIRO Brisbane, was an important new piece in Queensland’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The use of wastewater surveillance isn’t necessarily new. It was used globally in response to polio and it’s been used by Australian researchers to monitor everything from illicit drug consumption to pharmaceutical use and dietary data,” Dr Young said.

“In the context of a pandemic it means we can determine where in our state there might be people with a current infection with COVID-19, or who have been infected in the recent past.

“For communities that we already know have positive cases, a positive sewage result won’t mean anything new, but if the virus has been introduced into an area where cases haven’t been identified previously that information is absolutely critical.”

University of Queensland professor Kevin Thomas said a positive result from any of these sites would inform the department of a ‘red flag’ to further investigate.

“A positive result could be a known infection, or it could pick up someone who is asymptomatic or presymptomatic,” Mr Thomas said.

“It could also mean there is the presence of more than one individual, the purpose of surveillance testing of this kind isn’t to provide that level of detail.

“We use sewage surveillance as a sort of early warning system to inform the pandemic response and activate further responses, such as traditional testing.”

When the program is completed, a report will look at whether wastewater surveillance should continue or be extended to include other disease-causing organisms or other targets of health interest or concern. The scope of the program includes south east Queensland and a limited number of other sites, based on major population centres and tourism hubs.

Current locations are listed below, but may change:

  • Brisbane
  • Ipswich
  • Logan
  • Gold Coast
  • Sunshine
  • Hervey Bay
  • Mackay
  • Townsville
  • Cannonvale-Arlie Beach
  • Townsville
  • Cairns
  • Warwick
  • Stanthorpe
  • Bundaberg
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