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Public health partnership monitoring wastewater for signs of influenza and RSV

How bad is the flu season going to be this winter?

Healthy Central Valley Together will help eight cities in three Central Valley counties answer that question.

HCVT began monitoring for influenza A and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) through the wastewater Thursday to help public health officials and residents in Stanislaus, Merced and Yolo counties detect and respond to those infectious diseases.

The public health collaborative has been monitoring for genetic markers of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) in participating communities’ sewage for the past eight months and added monkeypox (MPX) this summer. The participating communities are Turlock, Modesto, Merced, Los Banos, Davis, Esparto, Winters and Woodland.

“Recent sampling of wastewater for COVID-19 also indicates increasing levels of COVID-19 circulating in the Modesto area. Information provided by wastewater sampling is an important surveillance tool for us, giving Public Health a sense of the spread of COVID-19 in our community, including whether the spread is increasing, decreasing, or staying about the same. This is particularly useful for Public Health right now because the information we currently receive about the number of positive COVID-19 test results is limited compared to earlier in the pandemic. Many people who are sick now self-perform over-the-counter COVID-19 tests. Although these are wonderful tools and provide convenience, the test results are not reported to public health. Wastewater sampling provides public health departments with information about COVID-19 that would otherwise be unavailable,” said new Stanislaus County Public Health Officer, Dr. Thea Papasozomenos, said.

HCVT is a partnership between UC Merced, UC Davis public health agencies and communities working to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other pathogens by using wastewater to inform public health strategies.

The addition of influenza and RSV comes as cases of those viruses have increased dramatically nationally. These diseases share several symptoms (common with SARS-CoV-2 as well), making community-wide tracking more challenging. Because wastewater monitoring looks for genetic materials specific to each virus and includes everyone who uses a sewage system, it provides an accurate picture of infections across the entire population.

The expansion in the number of diseases tracked is the result of HCVT joining WastewaterSCAN, a national effort based at Stanford University to disseminate a leading approach to disease monitoring through municipal wastewater systems to inform public health responses locally and nationally in too light HCVT independently uses WastewaterSCAN’s analytical methods, all of which are publicly available, from the start of its work. The closer alignment means that HCVT will have faster access to any new testing for additional pathogens that WastewaterSCAN adopts.

Results of wastewater monitoring for influenza and RSV will be available later this month at https://healthycvtogether.org/, along with continued reporting of COVID-19 and MPX data.

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