The highly contagious UK variant is rapidly spreading throughout Houston, Texas, a new analysis has found.
On Monday, the Houston Health Department revealed the variant, known as B.1.1.7 was found at more than three-quarters of the city’s wastewater plants in samples collected February 22.
This is 47 percent higher than the number of plants the strain was detected at just two weeks earlier.
The analysis was conducted just a week before Governor Greg Abbott’s order that the state will be ending the mask mandate and allowing businesses to fully reopen in Texas on March 10.
‘The prevalence of the U.K. variant in our wastewater shows it’s actively spreading in our city,’ Dr David Persse, chief medical officer for the City of Houston, said in a statement.
‘This is another clear indication that we must continue to mask up, practice social distancing, wash our hands, get tested and, get vaccinated when possible.’
Analysis of wastewater – toilet water that travels through a drainage system to a treatment facility – has been used for years to track a number of public health concerns.
Sewage surveillance is currently used in several countries to monitor poliovirus circulation, including Israel and India. It’s also been used in several cities in Europe to track the spread of opioids.
Researchers have found that infected people shed viruses, or viral genetic material, in their urine and stool.
Scientists believe this surveillance system could provide better estimate of how far the disease is spreading because this would include people who have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.
In fact, the virus can be detected in feces within three days of someone being infected, which is before most people show symptoms.
The Houston Health Department and Houston Water began testing the city’s wastewater in May 2020 to better identify outbreaks.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Mary Kekatos