Wastewater testing is used as a surveillance tool for Covid-19 and to monitor illicit drug use. Now ESR is looking at whether it could be used to pick up the monkeypox virus’ DNA. (file photo)
Kiwi scientists are investigating whether wastewater testing can be used to detect the monkeypox virus, as the country is in the midst of a community outbreak.
The Institute for Environmental Science and Research (ESR) has started a trial of wastewater testing for monkeypox (MPX) in a limited number of sites in main centres, a spokesperson advised.
Internationally, the use of wastewater as a surveillance tool for MPX is new, but is being utilised in parts of the United States to monitor the virus in the community.
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ESR scientists are testing for the DNA of the monkeypox virus to better understand the sensitivity of wastewater testing (the number of cases required for a detection).
It is also investigating the role of wastewater testing for the surveillance of MPX, and to understand its limitations.
Wastewater is used water from toilets, showers, baths, basins, sinks and laundries that passes through the sewerage system.
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Advocates and experts have previously raised concern about the amount of testing being done for MPX.
Last month, University of Auckland Associate Professor Peter Saxton told Stuff health professionals needed to be testing more “so we get a clearer picture of the extent of spread”.
He earlier said stopping transmission was “critical” while Aotearoa waited for a vaccine, which is not set to be available until at least December.
The PCR test for MPX involves swabbing any lesions on the skin – usually three swabs from at least three separate vesicles/pustules – and/or a throat swab.
Officials were unable to provide a figure on Wednesday as to how many MPX tests had been carried out to date, ahead of the weekly case update being released on Thursday.
ESR, Te Whatu Ora (Health New Zealand) and the Ministry of Health would not publicly report MPX wastewater results at this stage, while they gain a better understanding of its utility, ESR said.
“It is also important that the privacy of cases is preserved, including locations where they live.”