Researchers are once again turning to the nation’s sewers to track and confirm the spread of a contagious virus — but this time, it’s monkeypox.
Stanford University researchers have been monitoring wastewater for Covid-19 at 10 treatment plants in western California for the past two years, including sites in Silicon Valley, Sacramento, Palo Alto and several other cities in California’s Bay Area. In June, they added the monkeypox virus to their assay.
What they found: confirmation of the virus at almost every site.
“We have seen it in almost all the places where we work,” said Alexandria Boehm, a Stanford professor of civil and environmental engineering.
“When we detect it in the wastewater, it means there’s at least one person in that area that’s contributing to the wastewater that’s infected with monkeypox,” Boehm added. “The fact that we’re detecting it in all these different locations suggests monkeypox is around, and we can’t say how many people have monkeypox, but it’s not confined to a small location in the Bay Area.”
Boehm and her colleagues confirmed the presence of genetic material from the monkeypox virus — but not the live virus — at every wastewater treatment site except for the University of California, Davis. The most frequent occurrence of the viral material, she said, occurred at two wastewater treatment plants in San Francisco, as well as in San Jose, which serves about 1.5 million people.
The researchers have been collecting samples daily for the past 18 months as part of Stanford’s Sewer Coronavirus Alert Network, or SCAN, the only group publishing data on monkeypox in the nation’s wastewater.
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