OU researchers turn to wastewater to test for the flu

Last year, FOX23 told you about a team of scientists testing wastewater for signs of COVID-19.

Now, researchers at the University of Oklahoma are using those same methods to test for the flu.

“The excellent thing about wastewater surveillance is that we don’t have to wait for any humans to develop symptoms and go to the doctor to get tested. In the wastewater, we see the pathogens immediately,” said OU epidemiologist Dr. Katrin Kuhn.

The idea to monitor wastewater was initially created during the time of polio. When the pandemic hit, scientists realized they could use the same method to test for COVID-19.

Researchers at OU say analyzing the results can help with outbreaks, keep people out of the hospital, and keep hospitals from reaching capacity. OU professor Jason Vogel told FOX23 that you can see what’s happening with a community’s health in real time, which gives scientists an advantage.

“When people catch COVID-19, they will shed the virus in their feces and they can shed the virus for several days before they show symptoms. Therefore, we can detect it about a week before they go in and get tested, and those tests are reported,” said Vogel.

The City of Tulsa began using this same method in August. Other towns around the state are also using the method to test for both COVID-19 and the flu. It costs around $500 per sample, which includes collecting the wastewater, transporting it, and testing it.