Scientists have been able to track coronavirus outbreaks in Irvine, Troon and Ayr in sewage samples.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has been studying waste water across health board areas and have identified COVID-19’s ‘genetic footprint’ in NHS Ayrshire and Arran.

Analysis of waste water has pinpointed coronavirus’ ribonucleic acid (RNA), fragments that identify the virus even after it has begun to break down.

Studies at Ayrshire’s Meadowhead wastewater treatment works in Irvine, which services Ayr, Troon and the Irvine Valley, found higher levels of RNA as positive tests have increased in the areas.

The amount of the genetic material (measured as 'gene copies per litre') rose from zero at the start of September to 5,637 on September 25. The latest result shows it has risen to levels 12 times higher with 67,947 N1 gene copies per litre on October 19.

Public Health Scotland were able to confirm that SEPA’s RNA findings matched the areas known to have confirmed coronavirus cases ­– meaning virus outbreaks can be tracked through sewage.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said the data was ‘valuable’ and will help give ‘a more robust picture of the prevalence of COVID disease in Scotland’.

The World Health Organisation has said there is currently no evidence COVID-19 has been transmitted via sewerage systems.

Irvine Times:

Sample results across the rest of Scotland, including in the Central Belt, continue to be consistent with Public Health Scotland information on cases in the community.

You can see the data published by SEPA here.

Testing is conducted on incoming waste water samples collected by Scottish Water and its operators at 28 public waste water treatment works across the country, covering all 14 NHS Scotland health board areas. Most locations are tested weekly, but this can be increased when local outbreaks are apparent.

Samples are representative of waste water from between 40-50 percent of the Scottish population and, in combination with community testing, are helping Scotland understand the prevalence and distribution of the virus.

Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is essentially a polymeric molecule which is found in the genes of various biological roles.

RNA and DNA are both nucleic acids and are essential for all known forms of life.

Coronaviruses are a group of RNA viruses that cause disease.

SEPA began exploratory work to pinpoint fragments of coronavirus’ ribonucleic acid (RNA) in local waste water samples with the backing of Scottish Government and worked alongside Scottish Water, CREW (Centre of expertise for Waters) and academic partners from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and Heriot Watt University.