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Waste water in France to be monitored for Covid and other viruses

A new system is being launched and the results will be published weekly

Image of an urban wastewater treatment plant

Testing waste water for viruses can alert positive cases earlier Pic: M-Production

France is to begin monitoring wastewater again for Covid 19 - and for other viruses - and has launched a new system to do so.

The objective is to better assess the burden of winter viruses on public health and the healthcare system, Caroline Semaille, the Director General of France’s official public health body Santé Publique, announced at a press conference.

Each week a sample will be taken from 12 wastewater treatment plants; one in each region of the country excepting Corsica.

The data recorded will then be included in the government’s weekly bulletin on acute respiratory infections from October 11. 

A new indicator 

French researchers have been pioneering efforts to explore the possibility of tracking the circulation of Covid based on the presence of the virus in human faeces and therefore waste water.

These have been tested since the beginning of the pandemic and now the launch of a new monitoring system, SUM’Eau. It will run alongside older systems and is viewed as a useful step towards monitoring and thus controlling the virus.

A benefit of waste water testing is that it can alert positive cases earlier than other methods.

It is also independent of other screening practices, which is believed to be beneficial in recording cases of Covid where those infected have little or no symptoms. 

Triple epidemic 

Last winter was marked a so-called “triple epidemic” of Covid, influenza (flu) and bronchiolitis, three acute respiratory infections.

The circulation of all three illnesses at the same time put significant pressure on the healthcare system as each affects a slightly different population meaning multiple demographics were left needing help at once.

It is for this reason that while surveillance using SUM’Eau will initially be focused on Covid, it is hoped to be used for other viruses in the future – in particular influenza and bronchiolitis.

Using integrated surveillance and gathering multiple data on these viruses will make it possible to have a “global vision and help in the decision for the provision of care,” added Ms Semaille.

Covid booster campaign already started

France started a new Covid booster campaign on October 2, as cases of the virus continue to rise.

The campaign, mainly targeting vulnerable people, had been due to start on October 17 but was brought forward on advice from France’s health risk committee.

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