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Researcher: Delta variant ‘spreading through Missouri at a remarkable pace,’ sewage study shows


Experts say the delta variant is spreading fast throughout Missouri and is expected to "explode" in Fulton, Columbia and Jefferson City in the next week.

According to The Sewershed Surveillance Project, a COVID-19 tracking study overseen by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the viral load in Fulton, Columbia and Jefferson cities increased by 40% or more within the last week, or 25% or more for the last two weeks.

In February 2021, the sewage testing surveillance team began conducting variant testing of samples from sewer systems around Missouri. Samples with sufficient SARS-CoV-2 genetic material are tested and analyzed for combinations of genetic mutations found in variants.

The sewage testing suggests the presence of the variants across the state, which is used to help target variant follow-up in communities.

Marc Johnson, professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, is one of the scientists leading the wastewater testing effort at MU.

Johnson said there are many advantages to sewage monitoring. Johnson said it is faster and more effective than testing individual patients.

"First of all it's pretty fast, we can get a readout and tell you what's going on in a whole community," Johnson said. "It's faster than getting a readout from patients, when you get a readout from a patient you only know about what viruses are infecting that one patient. With the sewage testing, we can give you a pretty quick readout on an entire community."

Johnson said people shed coronavirus RNA before they have symptoms, which is why they test sewage water. He said people can still have the virus RNA after they have recovered, which is why researchers test from week to week and focus on whether the data shows the cases are rising or falling.

Johnson said the delta variant was first seen in Branson, Missouri, on May 10. A week later the variant had spread to southwest Missouri communities like Brookfield and Licking.

By June 7, Johnson said the delta variant could be found in Columbia and almost every other city/community in Missouri.

Johnson said the worry about the delta variant stems from it being highly contagious and spreading at a concerning rate, faster than other variants. Johnson said the UK variant does not spread anywhere near the same rate as the delta variant.

"We've seen the delta variant spread through the state at a remarkable pace," Johnson said.

Johnson said as soon as the variant enters a community, that location tends to see a large spike in cases in the weeks following.

Johnson urges people to get vaccinated, saying all the vaccines protect against the delta variant. Johnson said while it is still possible to contract COVID-19 with the vaccine, there is very little chance of death or severe illness.

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus

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Leila Mitchell

Leila is a Penn State graduate who started with KMIZ in March 2021. She studied journalism and criminal justice in college.


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