Italy to monitor sewage in hunt for possible new COVID-19 wave

MILAN (Reuters) - Italy plans to monitor wastewater nationwide for a possible early warning about any renewed outbreak of COVID-19 infections, the National Institute of Health (ISS) said on Wednesday.

The move underscores Italy’s hope to be well prepared for any new wave of the coronavirus. Italy became one of the countries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year; to date, it has recorded 242,149 cases and 34,914 deaths.

The wastewater-monitoring project will focus on priority sites such as tourist resorts in a first phase starting this month. It will be expanded in October with a surveillance network extended to all Italian cities.

The programme, coordinated by the ISS, will take in regional agencies, local health authorities, universities and 50 utility companies. Samples taken from water before it enters urban waste-treatment plants will be examined for any traces of the virus in the population, according to the ISS.

“This approach can anticipate...where the virus is circulating in our country,” said Luca Lucentini, Director of the Water Quality and Health Department of the ISS.

Last month the Italian National Institute of Health reported that scientists had found traces of the coronavirus in wastewater collected from Milan and Turin in December 2019, suggesting COVID-19 was already circulating in northern Italy before China reported the first cases.

Research in the Netherlands, France, Australia and elsewhere has found signs that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be detected in sewage, and many countries are beginning to sample wastewater to track the disease.

Reporting by Emilio Parodi; Editing by Lewis Krauskopf and Mark Heinrich