Boston Herald

UK variant again found in flushings

Wastewater data shows B.1.1.7 for 3 straight weeks

- By Rick Sobey

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.”

 ?? NiCOLAuS CzARnECki / HERALD STAff ?? UK STRAIN: Sewage samples are being taken from Massachuse­tts Water Resources Authority's Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant in Boston.
NiCOLAuS CzARnECki / HERALD STAff UK STRAIN: Sewage samples are being taken from Massachuse­tts Water Resources Authority's Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant in Boston.

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