A research initiative at Baylor College of Medicine is helping to predict outbreaks of COVID-19.
In partnership with the Houston Health Department and Rice University, Baylor scientists have been studying samples of wastewater collected by Houston Public Works.
Using existing and newly established testing methods, they were able to identify the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater samples collected from May 2020 to the present from approximately 39 sites throughout Houston.
Wastewater sampling is a cost-effective and efficient way to capture viral loads in the city’s population, with data available at the community and neighborhood levels. This data enables city health officials to mobilize and increase testing and education aimed at specific high-risk areas. Cities and governments around the world have now implemented similar programs.
The effort at Baylor was led by microbiologist Dr. Anthony Maresso, the Faculty Founder of Tailored Antibacterials and Innovative Laboratories for phage (Φ) Research (TAILOR), the College’s initiative that specializes in quickly adjusting research efforts to respond to infectious diseases.
“This is not Houston’s first infectious disease crisis,” Dr. Maresso says. “Wastewater sampling was pioneered by Dr. Joseph Melnick, the first chair of Baylor’s Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology, to get ahead of polio outbreaks in Houston in the 1960s.”