New York City wastewater shows link between cryptic COVID variant and worse phase of pandemic

In a new study, researchers at Columbia University identified a coronavirus mutation in New York City wastewater. This seems to emerge when the rate of severe cases starts to rise.The findings point to subtle, understated variants of the pandemic that are affecting day-to-day outcomes such as hospitalizations and deaths, without doctors even realizing it. may identify.

“Wastewater is a pooled sample,” said Archana Anand, a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University who worked on the study, which includes data from fall 2020 to winter 2022. Instead of gathering this information in one PCR test swab at a time, she’s targeting hundreds of thousands of people at a time.

To identify potential clues about what these new mutations do, Anand linked the wastewater data with data on cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from health departments in New York City and New Jersey. . North, by linking her COVID-19 pattern in Manhattan factories and zip codes in Bergen County, New Jersey, to mutations present in these sewers could help the coronavirus travel faster and evade people’s immune systems. I’ve found some mutations that might help.

For example, she identified three mutations in the N protein. The N protein is part of the virus, protecting its genetic material and serving other functions. Hospitalization, mortality, and positive test rates were higher when these mutations were present in the effluent.

The Colombian team is led by engineering professor and drainage expert Kartik Chandran. Before the pandemic, Chandran tracked microbial communities in wastewater, leading his lab to easily redirect to coronavirus.

Most wastewater monitoring in the United States is focused on measuring how much coronavirus is present in a particular sewer system.

“It’s not just ‘who’ and ‘how many,'” he said. “It’s a function and an activity.”

In other words, not just how much coronavirus is in the sewage, but what subspecies have what capabilities.

Mark Johnson, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Missouri who heads the state’s wastewater monitoring program and was not involved in the Columbia study, traced the mutant via wastewater rather than PCR testing. It is said that it is “more comprehensive” to

“It tells us about everyone, including people who don’t even know they’re sick,” he said. Wastewater monitoring has become more widespread over the past year, thanks in part to funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, setting up sewage testing and incorporating variant tracking can be logistically challenging for health departments.

Anand and her colleagues flagged a specific coronavirus mutation. They say more attention needs to be paid to potential factors for increased infection or severity. The study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, could be a starting point for identifying the next major subspecies of concern in New York City, as well as for designing variant-specific therapies and vaccines. It can also be a starting point.

The Documenting COVID-19 project, which partnered with Gothamist to publish this article, explored the implications of this study through interviews with the authors and outside experts as part of an ongoing study on wastewater monitoring for COVID-19. Did. The Documenting COVID-19 project is supported in part by the Brown Institute for Media Innovation at Columbia University, which is not affiliated with the lab that conducted this research.

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