SEWAGE is being tested for traces of Covid-19 in a trial aimed at helping monitor the spread of coronavirus across Scotland.

Scientists can are gathering samples to detect fragments of the RNA (a virus’s DNA) of Sars-Cov2, the bug that causes Covid-19, in our sewage.

They are being taken at sewage treatment works in each of Scotland's 14 NHS health board areas.

They are then tested for fragments of Covid-19 in ribonucleic acid which is produced by the body.

If the trials which aim to pinpoint local spikes in the virus are successful they could be rolled out across the UK to help track and tackle Covid-19.

The scientists are expanding on work started by Scottish Water and academic partners from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute to monitor the levels of fragments of the RNA in waste water.

HeraldScotland:

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), which stressed that there is no evidence that the fragments found in waste water are infectious, said it was one of the first agencies in Europe to carry out this type of work.

“As one of the first European Environmental Protection Agencies to do so, we’re in the early stages of this exploratory work to trace the presence of coronavirus RNA in Scotland’s wastewater,” said Sepa chief executive Terry A’Hearn.

“Our expertise in designing and implementing monitoring networks, coupled with our scientific capabilities, meant that we were able to get up and running quickly with the support of our partners. We believe we are one of the first agencies in Europe to begin this work.”

He added added that the organisation hopes their analysis could provide useful data in Scotland’s efforts to trace the virus, with Sepa estimating the samples will represent waste water from 40 to 50% of the Scottish population.

The World Health Organisation has said there is currently no evidence that coronavirus has been transmitted via sewerage systems. But the amount of RNA present provides a useful indication of how many people have the condition.

The first waste water samples from eight health board areas are being analysed in Sepa’s Lanarkshire Angus Smith laboratories.

Sepa says up to a half of the population will be represented in the sampling trial.

“Detecting viral genetic material in wastewater is relatively easy; however, the challenge is measuring how much genetic material is present accurately and relating that to disease levels in the community,” said Dr Alexander Corbishley from the Roslin Institute.

Roseanna Cunningham, the environment secretary, said that such work is crucial in ensuring Scotland's recovery from the health crisis.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented global crisis which has fundamentally affected us all," she said.. “There has of course been much research work carried out globally to better monitor, assess and understand the virus.”

“I welcome this important project being undertaken by Sepa, Scottish Water, academia and other partners to monitor the prevalence of the virus across the Scottish population.”

It comes two months after scientists in Australia developed a proof-of-concept method showing they can detect the virus in waste water.

Professor Kevin Thomas, the University of Queensland said at the time that the proposed method would give a real-time snapshot of how many people in a given community have the disease.

Scientists, then, successfully detected SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that leads to the disease COVID-19 – in untreated sewage from two plants in south-east Queensland.

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The researchers then stressed that while it is now largely confirmed that Covid-19 patients excrete the virus, there was no risk of people contracting the disease through drinking water, which is already thoroughly treated to remove any pathogens.

It comes as the government announced it was trialling a new "no swab" saliva coronavirus test that lets people collect their own sample at home by spitting into a pot.

According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), this new test only requires the individual to spit into a sample pot to be tested for current Covid-19 infection.

The trial is due to be launched in Southampton this week – and over 14,000 people working in GP surgeries, universities and other frontline roles have been recruited for its first phase.

Experts hope a saliva test will be an easier option for people - swabs can be uncomfortable and need to go deep into the nose and throat.

The tests are designed to identify if a person is currently infected with coronavirus.

Participants in the trial, which will include some university staff and students, will provide weekly saliva samples for lab testing.