It may sound a little gross, but analyzing wastewater for traces of diseases is one of the best ways to understand how populations are handling illness. It can be a gold mine of information regarding the prevalence of respiratory viruses like influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and SARS-CoV-2 (which causes COVID-19). The latest results from Biobot Analytics, an American biotechnology company that has been monitoring wastewater throughout the United States, indicate that all of these viruses are spiking across America.
"The respiratory illness season is now in full swing across the US," the report states. It shows active and increased co-circulation of all three viruses. In the case of influenza, the surge is fueled by influenza A (although influenza B is still prevalent) and includes all regions of the Unites States. The highest concentration of RSV cases are in the Northeast, followed by increases in the Midwest and South. As for COVID-19, the wastewater data confirms what hospitalization data has previously shown us: It is "on the rise again, especially in the Midwest and Northeast." The scientists concluded that respiratory illness season "has not yet peaked," and urged people to take precautionary steps like getting vaccinated and staying home if they are sick.
This is not the only recent study to examine wastewater for public health data. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is also monitoring wastewater to test for diseases and also warns that COVID-19 cases are spiking. CDC data indicates COVID-19 is still killing 1,000 Americans per week and the wave is expected to increase throughout the holidays, driven in part by variants like BA.2.86 (nicknamed "Pirola"). Luckily the latest crop of vaccines seem to neutralize the virus, as does masking.