Tech

Monkeypox is in Bay Area wastewater


Recent data suggested that monkeypox DNA could also be detected in a variety of bodily fluids of infected individuals. That includes respiratory and nasal secretions, saliva, urine, feces and semen – meaning a red tissue from a person with monkeypox can pick up the virus in sewage.

If genetic traces of the pathogen can remain in the wastewater for more than 24 hours, SCAN can detect it. RNA of covid-19 virus persists in wastewater for more than 10 days. Although monkeypox DNA appears to cross the 24-hour threshold, there are no public studies on how long it lasts.

One question remains how much monkeypox DNA needs to go into the wastewater for SCAN to actually detect it. SCAN can detect germs from wastewater from as few as two infected people out of 100,000.

Even in a state like California, which keeps sewage and sewer lines separate, rain dilutes the amount of viral DNA in the wastewater. To account for that, SCAN normalizes its estimates using a virus with a well-established expected number — the mild pepper virus. Healthy people excrete the virus harmlessly after eating pepper and pepper products, making it the most abundant RNA virus in human feces (it’s also very persistent in water, by the way).

Orange dots appear scattered in a series of green protrusions and tubes.
Scanning electron microscopy image of monkeypox virus (orange) on infected cells (green).

NIAID

There is no evidence that you can get monkeypox from the sewage itself. Follow World Health Organization. Bedding and clothing of people with monkeypox can also spread the virus.

Monkeypox has its own vaccine. The smallpox vaccine, which the United States has in the national stockpile, also protects against the disease. But public access to monkeypox testing, treatment and vaccines remains limited. Sewage testing could help public health officials detect smallpox outbreaks in monkeys without the need for widespread testing and determine where to invest resources.

Wastewater monitoring can also detect new monkeypox variants, two of which are currently circulating in the US. Virtually all of the current outbreaks are caused by a West African strain of monkeypox, for which SCAN has a specific test. This strain is more infectious but much less deadly than the other strain, known as the Congo Basin strain. In recent years, monkeypox has killed 3 to 6 percent of the people it infects, and the disease is fatal in young children. This year monkeypox has killed three people worldwide.

Currently, SCAN is the only attempt to publish data on monkeypox in wastewater. “The Bay Area is at the forefront of wastewater monitoring because we are Silicon Valley,” says Boehm. “But it’s not like California has monkeypox in sewage and nowhere else does it.”



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