Analysis of wastewater is a technique used for the detection of drug use in any given location. In the era of the coronavirus pandemic, it finds another purpose: prevalence of the infectious disease.
The Turkish Water Institute affiliated with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry oversees wastewater analysis. In labs across the country, researchers monitor the trends in the pandemic for every province. More importantly, their work serves as a guideline for measures against the pandemic. As a matter of fact, the examination of wastewater allows them to predict any rise in the number of cases at least five days ahead of the rise. Nowadays, lab staff are also occupied with detecting new, more dangerous variants of the disease, such as delta and delta plus. Institute President professor Ahmet Mete Saatçi says they are able to identify all variants through their analysis.
The work originally started in May 2020, at Marmara University in Istanbul, where water samples from 81 provinces were analyzed, both in Istanbul and Samsun. Since June 2020, 22 more provinces joined the analysis work, including the capital Ankara. Weekly samples help in the creation of maps on the prevalence of COVID-19. The analysis also helps authorities to identify asymptomatic cases, something difficult to track, and the researchers say their work serves as a kind of “early warning” system in the pandemic.
Saatçi told Demirören News Agency (DHA) Wednesday that the analysis sometimes takes weeks but it gives a clear result. It is not without its dangers, though. “Usually, the virus we identified in the water is already inactive but in Istanbul, we came into contact with a live version for the first time. Actually, we found that it was live only after an analysis that took 15 days. We warned researchers to take precautions in their work after that. It was interesting to see the virus still alive because most of the time it is found disintegrated, mixed with detergents and other cleaning materials which cover it,” he explained.