Wastewater monkeypox testing underway across Canada
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Wastewater testing to detect the monkeypox virus has begun in Winnipeg and 12 other Canadian cities as scientists work to determine how accurate the tests are.
Three types of tests, including one developed in Winnipeg at the National Microbiology Lab, are now being used to measure rates of monkeypox in municipal wastewater, the Public Health Agency of Canada confirmed. The Canadian-developed test could make genomic sequencing easier, meaning if the test is accurate, it would make it much simpler to detect the monkeypox virus in sewage.
The evaluation of the test is nearly complete, a PHAC spokesperson stated.
“It is unique because it allows for easy genomic sequence confirmation. This means that it may be easier to verify if the monkeypox virus is present in a community,” the statement reads.
“Since the NML test is new, more information will be available once scientists have confirmed its accuracy. However, early data demonstrates that the NML test (as well as the externally developed tests) are generating positive results in the wastewater of communities where there are known monkeypox cases. NML scientists are also taking the previously confirmed tests and comparing them against a family of orthopoxvirus (the group of viruses to which monkeypox belongs to). At this time, the previously confirmed tests are successfully demonstrating they can detect the monkeypox virus.”
Using wastewater to monitor levels of monkeypox is new, and scientists around the world are still working on setting standards for this kind of analysis. The surveillance of COVID-19 levels in wastewater paved the way for monitoring other viruses. A global outbreak of monkeypox, which causes rash and flu-like symptoms, is ongoing. No cases have been detected in Manitoba.
The public-health agency has also recently announced plans to use wastewater surveillance to track levels of polio in Canada, as is being done in the U.K. and in the U.S., even though it’s been nearly 20 years since a case of polio was recorded in Canada. Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said on Aug. 12 that the public health agency has been looking into using wastewater to track antimicrobial resistant organisms and monitor the growth of bacteria that don’t respond to antibiotics.
“That is a key area of exploration as well, going forwards,” Tam said.
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.