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University of Arizona/Chris Richards

Poop tests stop COVID-19 outbreak at University of Arizona

By testing dorm wastewater for the coronavirus, the University of Arizona may have stomped out a potential outbreak before it could spread, The Washington Post reports. Several countries and some U.S. universities have been checking sewage for RNA from SARS-CoV-2 in people’s poop, which can signal infections shortly before clinical cases and deaths appear. In Arizona, wastewater from a student dormitory contained viral RNA just days after students—who had all tested negative for COVID-19—moved into their rooms this month. The university retested all 311 residents and dorm workers and found two students who were asymptomatic but positive for the virus; they were then quarantined, officials explained in a press conference. “If we had waited until they became symptomatic and they stayed in that dorm for days, or a week, or the whole incubation period, how many other people would have been infected?” said former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, now a faculty member at the university. That suggests sewage testing “is a very good early warning system,” environmental health scientist Kevin Thomas of the University of Queensland, St. Lucia, told The Washington Post.

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