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Israeli researchers to monitor sewage for COVID-19 outbreaks in 14 Israeli cities

  • Israeli researchers to monitor sewage for COVID-19 outbreaks in 14 Israeli cities

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Ben-Gurion University
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is one of Israel’s leading research universities and among the world leaders in many fields.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) has signed an agreement with the Israeli Ministry of Health to detect and monitor for COVID-19 in sewage samples from 14 cities around the country.

The monitoring will serve as an early warning system to detect outbreaks. It is part of a larger pilot study being conducted and funded by the Ministry of Health before implementing the tracking methodology countrywide. BGU scientists and collaborators might eventually be able to predict outbreaks based on the neighborhood or even the street level.

A study on the initial pilot six months ago to develop the new methodology that traces the SARS-CoV-2 virus through the sewage and wastewater systems has just been published on MedRxiv.

Following the initially successful pilot program in Ashkelon, the new agreement will include the following cities: Jerusalem, Beer-Sheva, Rahat, Lehavim, Beit Shemesh, Pardesia, Binyamina, Kfar Saba, Netanya, Tira, Elad, Nes Tziona, Ramat Yishai, and Ramat Hasharon.

“We can identify SARS-CoV-2 in the sewage and wastewater, and hopefully prevent outbreaks,” says principal investigator BGU Prof. Ariel Kushmaro, John A. Ungar Chair in Biotechnology, of the Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology Engineering. “If we are monitoring a city with only a small number of known COVID-19 cases, and traces show up in the sewage, you can see something is wrong and more testing can be done.”

The other team members include: Dr. Yakir Berchenko of BGU’s Department of Industrial Engineering and Management; Marylou Shengen and Karin Yaniv from Kushmaro's Environmental Biotechnology Lab; Dr. Itay Bar-Or, a virologist from Sheba Medical Center; Prof. Eran Friedler from the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology; and the company Kando, a leader in wastewater management technology located in Israel and Colorado.

Monitoring sewage will help mitigate expansion of COVID-19 cases earlier, especially in areas where testing isn’t being maximized,” says Doug Seserman, chief executive officer of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. “We hope that this project will be successful in in Israel and that this technology is brought to the U.S.”