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The Health Board is taking over the University of Tartu’s work on analysing wastewater for coronavirus

The Health Board is taking over the University of Tartu’s work on analysing wastewater for coronavirus

Last year, the University of Tartu launched a SARS-CoV-2 advance warning monitoring system which was based on analysing wastewater. This analysis provided epidemiologists with important information about the spread of coronavirus. As of the beginning of the new year, responsibility for the University of Tartu’s former analysis work is being taken over by the Health Board.

Merli Jõemaa, adviser for the Health Board’s Environmental Health Department, explained that the University of Tartu’s aim had been to design a SARS-CoV-2 wastewater monitoring system and to develop the system surrounding it. ‘According to the plan, the developed portion of the process of analysing wastewater was always meant to be handed over to a national laboratory. That moment has now arrived. As of the new year, all laboratory analyses will be conducted at the Health Board’s laboratory of communicable diseases,’ she added. Routine regular monitoring which is based on a standardised methodology is not generally something which is undertaken by an academic institution, while nationwide monitoring is always state-organised. ‘This means that wastewater monitoring needed to be transferred sooner or later, with the result that it is now under the coordination of the Health Board,’ said Jõemaa.

According to Tanel Tenson, professor of antimicrobial substances technology at the University of Tartu, and the previous head of the wastewater analysing initiative, the methodology being used to monitor wastewater is now reliable, so the Health Board will have no trouble at all in smoothly continuing regular monitoring processes. ‘Cooperation between the University of Tartu and the Health Board in the field of monitoring wastewater will, however, continue as new information is constantly being gained about coronavirus. We will still be there as consultants should it become necessary to further develop or adjust the methodology. We will also carry on with the genotyping of virus variants,’ said Tenson.

Instead of the sixty samples which had previously been collected each week, a total of thirty-four samples are now collected on average, but this will not have an effect on the quality of the work. The samples are being collected by the Estonian Environmental Research Centre thanks to orders which have been placed by the Health Board. No further changes will be made in the content of the monitoring process; cooperation with the University of Tartu will continue. The monitoring plan will be reassessed on a weekly basis and will be amended based on the epidemiological situation if such a course of action becomes necessary.

The wastewater monitoring initiative provides early warning information about the regional spread of the virus. ‘The monitoring work helps to detect outbreaks when the spread has not yet become extensive,’ said Jõemaa.

The Health Board will continue to publish the results for wastewater sampling as before, and the entire body of information will be visually displayed in the monitoring map which is available on the Health Board’s website.

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