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Scientists detect rapidly rising Covid-19 fragments in rural waste water

17 December 2021 - 11:56
Rapidly rising concentrations of Covid-19 fragments in samples collected from facilities in rural areas comes as a growing number of children and adults return to rural areas after the closure of urban schools and universities, and as people travel home for their summer holidays. Stock photo.
Rapidly rising concentrations of Covid-19 fragments in samples collected from facilities in rural areas comes as a growing number of children and adults return to rural areas after the closure of urban schools and universities, and as people travel home for their summer holidays. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/perig76

The SA Medical Research Council’s (SAMRC) waste water surveillance team has detected rapidly rising concentrations of Covid-19 fragments in samples collected from facilities in rural areas.

The concentrations of non-infectious fragments are rising rapidly in all the rural waste water treatment facilities monitored by the SAMRC waste water surveillance team.

“This holds true for rural sites around the country, including in Limpopo, the Eastern Cape and Western Cape,” said Dr Renée Street, a member of the team. 

“There has definitely been a lag in rural areas, and it is only over the past week or so that we have been observing rapid increases in SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations in rural waste water facilities,” said Prof Angela Mathee. 

“The evidence in waste water of an increase in the number of people in rural areas with symptomatic or asymptomatic cases of Covid-19 may be associated with a growing number of children and adults returning to rural areas following the closure of urban schools and universities, as well as with people travelling to rural areas for their summer holidays.”

The team said they do not yet have results from their waste water analyses to paint a complete picture of the dominant variants in rural areas.

“We do know the Delta variant remained dominant in some rural towns as of last week. However, given the extremely rapid pace at which the Omicron variant has gained dominance in urban areas, this could change in rural areas over a very short time,” said Dr Rabia Johnson, deputy director of the SAMRC Biomedical Research and Innovation Platform.

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