"What's your poo telling you?" is not only the name of a popular book, it's also a relevant question when it comes to your health.
And in this case, fecal samples from the Oxford Wastewater Treatment Plant tell us that COVID is likely on the rise in the community.
Per a release from the Butler County General Health District, three samples taken on different days from the treatment plant show an increase in COVID-19 in the general population.
"Wastewater data can be one of the first indicators that notify a community that the risk of getting the disease is high," says Butler County General Health District's Carrie Yeager.
Earlier this year, the Ohio Department of Health and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency teamed up with the U.S. EPA in Cincinnati and the Ohio Water Resources Center to test Ohio’s sewage and wastewater treatment systems to determine the presence of coronavirus RNA fragments in wastewater.
Fragments of coronavirus RNA can be found in the feces of both asymptomatic and symptomatic individuals infected with COVID-19. A study from the Scripps Research Translational Institute found that asymptomatic people have a similar viral load to those of symptomatic individuals, and up to 45% of infected individuals may be asymptomatic.
According to a press release from the Ohio EPA, emerging science indicates that the virus can be detected in raw wastewater about three to seven days before there is a visible increase in cases and/or hospitalizations. So the data collected could provide an early warning of the virus’ spread in a community and indicate the level of spread.
“For Ohio, this research may unlock important tools for public health officials to better estimate viral loads as a leading indicator of disease occurrence in a community, to help understand disease trends, and to inform or assess the effectiveness of community interventions to limit the spread of disease,” says the Ohio EPA.
You can view Ohio-wide COVID fragment data — including that for the Oxford plant — at coronavirus.ohio.gov.
For the Oxford treatment plant, there were 200,000 million gene copies collected on Dec. 6 from wastewater. On Dec. 9, there were 430,000 million gene copies. And on Dec. 13 there were 1,000,000 million gene copies collected.
“The increase of COVID-19 fragments in the wastewater tells us that spread of the virus is higher than we have previously seen," says Butler County Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer. "When notified of such an increase, the public should be consistently following public health advice on facial coverings, physical distance and hand washing. During this Holiday season when many have plans to gather and spread of the virus is high, our community should be especially vigilant."
According to data released by the Ohio Department of Health on Dec. 17, Butler County was averaging 929.7 cases per 100,000 people.
"Despite the excitement of vaccine approval, December has been a hard COVID month for Butler County. We shattered daily new case counts on several occasions. Hospitals have sent pleads to 'stay home' as they manage ICU occupancy and staffing shortages throughout the region," says Bailer.