The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is ironing out the “logistical and legal” aspects of testing airplane sewage for coronavirus variants as it continues to explore such a Covid-19 surveillance program.
The agency is still “figuring out how to operationalize this program,” a person familiar with CDC discussions said, adding that there are “logistical and legal” hurdles that need to be resolved before the program “can be operational”.
Some of the agency’s partners told CNN they were set to help deploy this potential next frontier in the national Covid-19 surveillance effort.
Monitoring wastewater for traces of coronavirus variants is a “validated” scientific process — no longer in its pilot phase — and airplanes are a logical next step, said Matt McKnight, chief executive of the Boston-based synthetic biology company Ginkgo Bioworks. Its Concentric by Ginkgo Biosecurity and Public Health Unit was chosen to partner with the CDC’s Traveler-Based Genomic Surveillance Program to detect Covid-19 and influenza variants among international travelers.
For now, using testing services to collect and analyze aircraft wastewater for variants “is an active conversation between the CDC, the White House, and the airlines,” McKnight said.
But the aircraft wastewater testing process itself is “a validated methodology, and it’s a program that can be actively run,” he added. “The system is ready to operate.”
Aircraft sewage testing involves the collection of sewage from commercial aircraft carrying individual passengers.
“You can get it off the plane in less than two minutes, put it quickly in a lab network, that we manage all of that,” McKnight said.
Once these sewage samples arrive at a diagnostic laboratory for testing, scientists analyze them for traces of known or unknown viruses, such as emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the Covid-19. When samples test positive for the virus, scientists proceed with genome sequencing to identify exactly which variant it is.
“Usually, sequencing takes about five to seven days,” said Casandra Philipson, researcher and program manager for Ginkgo Bioworks. Then the scientists can analyze their results and submit their findings to the CDC.
“We can do analyzes very quickly,” Philipson said, for example in a few days. “And then return the results immediately.”
Both McKnight and Philipson said that monitoring airplane sewage can not only help detect emerging coronaviruses and influenza variants – serving as a “radar system” – but can alert vaccine makers to the variants that our Covid-19 vaccines may need to target every year.
US Food and Drug Administration advisers are due to meet this week to discuss Covid-19 vaccines becoming annual immunizations, similar to the seasonal flu vaccine.
That process could include streamlining vaccine composition, immunization schedules and periodic vaccine updates, according to meeting documents released Monday. The FDA said it plans to evaluate circulating strains of the coronavirus at least once a year and decide in June which strains to select for the fall season, similar to the vaccine update process. yearly against the flu.
“If you give information to Moderna or Pfizer early enough, they can make a vaccine very quickly, which we couldn’t do at the start of the pandemic,” McKnight said. “The big lesson learned is that you can think of all these virus variants circulating around the world, and it’s kind of like anything else where we would have a radar system, to detect what’s out there so you can get a early warning. .”
A report released last week by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine describes sewage monitoring as a “valuable part” of infectious disease management and notes that sewage monitoring at major airports and US entry could help identify early cases of pathogens from other regions among international travelers. The report was produced at the request of the CDC.
A separate UK study, published last week in the journal Plos One, found that the majority of sewage samples taken from 150 terminals and 32 aircraft at three major UK international airports in March 2022 were positive for SARS-CoV-2.
All samples taken from the sewers of the arrival terminals at Heathrow and Bristol airports, and 85% of the samples taken from Edinburgh airport sites, tested positive for the virus, the study found.
“I was not surprised that we found SARS-CoV-2 RNA in these wastewater samples. This was a proof-of-concept study: the ability to detect viral RNA in samples proved that our methodology worked, which was a positive result,” said Kata Farkas, study author and researcher at the University of Bangor in the United Kingdom. said in an email Tuesday.
“In our study, we used PCR-based detection, but other studies have used sequencing successfully for these types of samples. Therefore, variants can also be identified in aircraft/airport wastewater, supporting other types of monitoring programs to better understand which variants are circulating around the world,” she wrote. “It should be noted that the methodology we have described can be used for the identification of other viruses that may threaten global public health.”
. CDC discovers logistics legal tests water sewage planes for variants coronavirus according to a source