What Washingtonians can learn about diseases from our poop
When polio recently turned up in New York, health officials were able to track the virus from county to county using wastewater testing — the same kind they'd been using for COVID-19.
- But in Washington state, officials aren't using sewage to try to detect viruses like polio — at least, not yet.
Driving the news: Officials with the state Department of Health told Axios Seattle that they are limiting their use of wastewater testing to COVID-19 right now.
- That's largely because the state's COVID wastewater testing is paid for using federal grants from the CDC, which cover testing for COVID-19 and foodborne illnesses, but not other viruses.
Even so, state officials are exploring ways to add monkeypox testing to the mix, a health department spokesperson wrote in an email.
- That's a step that has already been undertaken elsewhere, including in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Canada.
The big picture: While there was some level of wastewater surveillance in the U.S. pre-pandemic, COVID supercharged it by prompting the creation of the National Wastewater Surveillance System, Axios' Tina Reed and Arielle Dreher report.
- Several universities have since banded together to build their own networks of wastewater testing, such as Stanford-based WastewaterSCAN, which has expanded its work to other viruses, including influenza and now, monkeypox.
Zoom in: In Washington, public health officials say wastewater testing has helped them track COVID-19 infection trends and spikes even as more people turn to at-home tests, which have obscured case counts due to a lack of public reporting.
- Testing sewage also gives officials advance warning of when disease is spreading, since virus levels in wastewater tend to rise several days before an uptick in reported cases.
What's next: While there are no immediate plans to test wastewater for polio, "this may change as the situation evolves," state health department spokesperson Shelby Anderson wrote in an email to Axios.
- The department also wants to expand COVID-19 wastewater testing to more counties, as only 10 of 39 are doing it right now.
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