Photo Credit: Rajesh Balouria / Pixabay

The Israeli Ministry of Health has signed an agreement with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev to detect and monitor SARS-CoV-2, the virus that leads to COVID-19, in sewage samples from 14 cities around the country.

This larger pilot study is being funded by the ministry before the tracking methodology is implemented nationwide. Monitoring will serve as an early warning system for outbreaks, the university said.

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Six months ago, a group of BGU scientists were involved in developing a new methodology to trace the SARS-CoV-2 virus through the sewage and wastewater systems.

After a single initial pilot program in Ashkelon, which succeeded in predicting an outbreak there, the new agreement was put together to cover 14 cities around the country.

The cities include Be’er Sheva, Rahat, Lehavim, Beit Shemesh, Pardesia, Binyamina, Kfar Saba, Netanya, Tira, Jerusalem, Elad, Nes Tziona, Ramat Yishai, and Ramat Hasharon.

“We can identify SARS-CoV-2 in the sewage and wastewater, which will serve as an early warning system for future outbreaks,” says principal investigator Prof. Ariel Kushmaro, John A. Ungar Chair in Biotechnology, of the Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology Engineering.

The other team members include: Dr. Yakir Berchenko of the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management, Marylou Shengen and Karin Yaniv from Kushmaro’s Environmental Biotechnology Lab, Dr. Itay Bar-Or, a virologist from Tel Hashomer’s Sheba Medical Center, and Prof. Eran Friedler from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology and the company Kando.

Kushmaro has just uploaded an article about the pilot project in Ashkelon to the online journal Medrxiv.

The project received initial funding and support from the BGU Coronavirus Task Force. In previous studies, Dr. Berchenko successfully tracked a wild poliovirus after an outbreak in the sewage system in Israel in 2013.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.