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Lewis & Clark Public Health rounds up three years of wastewater testing

Posted at 5:53 PM, Dec 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-18 19:53:51-05

HELENA — The National Wastewater Surveillance System is a growing program of the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) that monitors the prevalence of disease in communities, and now Lewis & Clark Public Health is a part of that database.

“It takes a village to really provide this resource to our community," said Dorota Carpenedo, an epidemiologist with Lewis & Clark Public Health .

The Lewis and Clark County Public Health department just hit year three of its own wastewater monitoring program.

Carpenedo said the program is seen as a complementary tool to other methods of testing disease prevalence by looking at peaks and valleys in the wastewater data to see what may be coming down the pipeline for health officials.

“We use this more as a projector," she explained.

On a weekly basis samples are pulled from Helena and East Helena wastewater treatment plants then tested at Carroll College. The data collected provides information on community-level disease trends whether or not people have symptoms.

“We are part of the, I guess I would say, a movement to use other data sources that may be non-conventional," Carpenedo said, "we can't be caught off guard like we have in the past when the pandemic happened. We need to be prepared."

Across the country an estimated 117 million people are covered by the national wastewater program - that’s about 35% of the U.S. On the CDC website you can explore this data and see where viral activity is the highest - Montana is currently experiencing very high COVID activity.

“Around winter time we are in respiratory season right now and so we expected for it to go up," Carpenedo said.

Right now, the national system is mainly tracking Mpox as well as Covid-19, but there is opportunity for the program to grow. Carpenedo told MTN News RSV, influenza, and even opioid prevalence could be expanded into wastewater testing in the future.

The results of wastewater testing are not used to identify or diagnose infected individuals, therefore wastewater concentrations are not used to calculate Covid-19 rates in the community at this time.