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telling coronavirus to scat

Sewers are a disgustingly reliable 'early warning system' for COVID-19 outbreaks

It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it: Researchers are reportedly turning to Number Two in order to predict where the next major coronavirus outbreak will be, The Washington Post reports. "S--- is a great source of information," explained David Hirschberg, the founder of a biotech firm that is working to track COVID-19 by studying sewage.

The novel coronavirus can be detected in wastewater as much as two weeks before a person begins to show symptoms, which means that studying a city's raw sewage can help researchers understand how much of a population is ill. More than 170 wastewater facilities around the country (which account for about 13 percent of the population) have been sending samples to labs, which are finding that based on what goes down the toilet, outbreaks are likely even worse than official numbers are showing. "Our estimates are about 10 times higher than the cumulative [confirmed] cases up to that date," said Mariana Matus, a co-founder of the sewage testing company Biobot.

Using the data gleaned from sewage could be crucial as the country slowly begins to reopen. For example, if researchers detect a spike in the amount of COVID-19 virus circulating in the bowels of a particular population, it might be time to snap closed a quarantine again; low virus counts, on the other hand, could lead to tentative openings.

"This is the kind of early warning system you want to have," Hirschberg said. "When people start showing up at hospitals and start dying, that's not the indicator you want to have. That's too late." Read more at The Washington Post.