SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – When it comes to researching COVID-19, University of South Dakota Biomedical Professor Dr. Lisa McFadden is letting nothing go to waste… literally. Since July, she’s been using wastewater to research spreading trends in COVID-19.
“The country and the world, actually, has been using wastewater surveillance for about forty years now: it started with monitoring polio which has similar properties,” McFadden said.
They’re using similar techniques to measure the community spread within Vermillion, South Dakota.
“The unit property with wastewater is that both symptomatic people and people that don’t have symptoms of COVID-19 actually shed it in our feces,” McFadden said.
Helping her in this pursuit is Dr. Victor Huber. He specializes in studying influenza viruses, vaccine induced immunities and secondary infections.
“It’s an important thing to get the experts in the scientific community together to provide their expertise to solving this problem,” Huber said.
Since he’s been at USD, he’s researched two pandemics – including the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
“You get an opportunity to see what viruses are present – even if you’re only catching it at the time that the cases are happening, you still get to have an idea of understanding of the presence of the virus, and weather it’s SARS-CoV-2 that’s causing the illnesses that are being seen,” Huber said.
They get their samples from the Vermillion Wastewater Treatment Facility a couple times a week.
“And we’ve been finding some very interesting findings, in that it’s really highly coordinated with what we’re finding on the clinical front,” McFadden said.
“It’s almost impossible to keep up with the number of manuscripts and papers and new data that’s coming out on, pretty much a daily basis,” Huber said.
Huber says they’re also studying immune responses from people who have the coronavirus.
“And trying to understand how those antibodies recognize the virus itself and then, you know especially in the emergence of these new variants how that’s going to change over time,” Huber said.
Dr. McFadden says that with all of their resources, they can have test results in just a matter of hours.
“We’ve found trends that actually match our clinical testing parameters, so it matches clinical cases in the county and… other measures like that,” McFadden said.
As far as cases go, Dr. Huber says the city is doing well. They then share the data with the university’s COVID-19 Task Force to determine the appropriate measures the campus needs to take to ensure safety and prevent further spread.
“I think we had a large, sort of case number in the fall, but, I think, lately they’ve been staying pretty consistent in their numbers; it’s not gone but it’s consistent,” Huber said.
“We’re hoping that this is being helpful to them and just helping the community in general,” McFadden said.
The South Dakota Department of Health keeps tabs of all current cases of COVID-19.