COVID wastewater testing now being done in the NT by CDU microbiologists

by | Mar 22, 2022 | COVID-19 | 0 comments

Wastewater samples for COVID-19 testing in the NT will no longer be sent to South Australia for analysis, after a team of microbiologists at Charles Darwin University recently started carrying out the tests in Darwin.

CDU announced on Tuesday that two microbiologists have been testing the Territory’s wastewater since January this year, five months after the NT Government said it had no interest in having the tests conducted in the NT.

Senior Microbiologists Dr Anna Padovan and Dr Susan Pizzutto from the Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods’ (RIEL) Environmental Chemistry and Microbiology Unit (ECMU) are spearheading the testing using CDU’s lab equipment.

“By bringing the testing right here to Darwin, NT Health no longer has to wait for samples to be flown interstate,” Dr Padovan said.

NT Health had previously sent its samples to SA for analysis since it began testing wastewater in May 2021.

NT Deputy Chief Health Officer Charles Pain said in August last year that because the testing was a specialist service, there wasn’t currently a team who could do it locally.

Dr Pain added that the NT was able to call on interstate scientists through a program called the Collaboration on Sewage Surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 (ColoSSoS Project).

“It’s much better for us to be part of that partnership than try and do it ourselves,” he said last year.

He also said that time that the NT was “not looking at doing this laboratory testing locally”.

The Northern Territory was the last jurisdiction in Australia to launch its own COVID-19 wastewater testing program.

Dr Pain said since the NT didn’t have community spread, “we didn’t have to rush into it”. It’s unclear what changed with the government’s policy.

Senior Microbiologist Dr Padovan meanwhile said that NT Health can now access test results within 24 hours.

“The capacity to test wastewater for COVID-19 demonstrates a small fraction of the research capability at CDU and is yet another demonstration of the benefits of universities and governments working together,” she said.

Under the current process, CDU explains wastewater samples are delivered to them, then, after some extraction processes, the researchers use the same type of PCR test that millions of Australians have been receiving at testing sites to test the samples for traces of COVID-19.

Senior Microbiologist Dr Pizzutto added that results are reported to NT Health, who can use the data to track the trends of COVID-19.

“By mapping long term trends of COVID-19 in community wastewater, authorities can be informed as to how the pandemic is tracking,” Dr Pizzutto said.

CDU said in a statement that they support the ECMU’s capacity to bring this testing online in a dedicated laboratory that has been supported by the Northern Territory Government.

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