UK variant again found in flushings
Wastewater data shows B.1.1.7 for 3 straight weeks
The more contagious U.K. coronavirus variant has been detected in Boston area sewage samples for three straight weeks, a daily occurrence since March 20 that shows the variant is “clearly here and it’s persisting,” an infectious disease expert tells the Herald.
The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s COVID-19 wastewater tracker now includes screening results for the B.1.1.7 (U.K.) variant in Greater Boston sewage.
The tracker shows that the variant has been detected in both the northern and southern regions of the Boston area every day from March 20 to April 9.
“This fits with what the limited sequencing has been showing — that B.1.1.7 is accounting for a substantial portion of all samples,” said Boston University infectious diseases specialist Davidson Hamer. “You can see that it’s clearly here and it’s persisting.”
“B.1.1.7 has basically established itself in the north and south of Boston,” he added.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts ranks high for the number of B.1.1.7 cases and near the top for P.1 variant cases.
Sewage samples are taken multiple times a week for MWRA’s pilot study to track wastewater at the Deer Island Treatment Plant for indicators of COVID-19.
The samples are analyzed by Cambridge-based Biobot Analytics, a wastewater epidemiology company that recently announced it had successfully detected the B.1.1.7 variant in sewage samples.
The MWRA tracker shows if the variant has been detected, but the tracker doesn’t break it down to how much of the strain is in the region.
“We should be getting there soon,” Kyle McElroy, a research scientist at Biobot, said of adding specific quantity amounts of the variant.
McElroy, who leads the COVID19 wastewater testing program, said the wastewater data complements the coronavirus clinical testing data in communities.
“We hope we’re providing useful information that is actionable for public health and government leaders,” he said.
Community leaders could “tailor their public health interventions differently if they see that B.1.1.7 is the predominant strain circulating,” McElroy said.
The researchers are also continuing research and development to identify other variants of concern in wastewater. Biobot plans to add additional variants to its analysis as methods are developed.
Tracking the variants in wastewater “has the potential to allow us to see where different variants are spreading more quickly,” said Boston University epidemiology professor Matthew Fox. “Ideally we’d use that information to shift where we put our vaccines to try and stem the rise of any more infectious or more virulent variants.”