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THL to track coronavirus in waste water

Sampling sewage is part of the effort to map the spread of novel coronavirus in the country.

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Image: Niko Mannonen / Yle

Finland is to start start sampling waste water in order to gather more data on community spread of the novel coronavirus.

The National Institute for Health and Welfare THL said on Tuesday that similar testing has been already carried out in parts of the United States and Australia. Those studies showed that genetic material of the coronavirus, its RNA, can be detected and identified in untreated sewage.

However, THL pointed out that RNA testing cannot reveal the viability of the virus or how contagious it is.

Sampling will be carried out at waste water facilities in several parts of the country on a weekly or monthly basis.

"While a regular coronavirus test shows if an individual is infected, the waste water study will show the level of contagion among the population in different localities," explained THL researcher Tarja Pitkänen.

At the same time as it announced the start of water water sampling, THL reminded the public that the coronavirus is not threat to the safety of drinking water in Finland. In practice, the methods of water purification used at treatment plants destroy and eliminate viruses.

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