What is the Sewage Surveillance Research Program?

The sewage surveillance research program tests untreated sewage for fragments of the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) virus to provide data to support NSW Health’s response. 

Is COVID in our sewage?

The virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, is just one of many viruses present in sewage. This research program detects viral fragments of SARS-CoV-2, not infectious viruses. 

Infected people’s stools may shed viral fragments into sewage, and shedding can extend for several weeks beyond the person’s infectious period. Viral fragments can also enter the sewer when washed off hands and bodies via sinks and showers. The detection of these fragments can provide data to support NSW Health’s response.  

Is COVID-19 dangerous in sewage?

SARS-CoV-2 is easily inactivated (killed) by usual sewage treatment processes, including chlorine and ultraviolet (UV) disinfection. Sewage also contains detergents and other substances that inactivate (kill) SARS-CoV-2 before it reaches the sewage treatment plant. Sewage is treated before discharge to the environment using UV or chlorine disinfection and is regulated by the NSW EPA.  

What should someone do to prevent exposure to disease causing microorganisms in sewage?

Exposure to all disease-causing microorganisms in the workplace and in sewage should be managed by ‘business as usual’ hygiene practices such as using appropriate personal protective equipment and good handwashing.

I’m from a council, can we get our sewage tested?

Testing for SARS-CoV-2 fragments in sewage is a specialised test and is not routinely available. The current testing locations have been decided on by a steering committee and based upon areas of concern as directed by the NSW Chief Health Officer.  

Is drinking water safe from COVID-19?

Drinking water is treated before being delivered to your tap and is safe to drink unless your council tells you otherwise. The treatment is designed to inactivate (kill) or remove even the toughest microorganisms, including viruses, bacteria and protozoa. SARS-CoV-2 is not a hardy virus. No additional or modified treatment is required beyond the current ‘business as usual’ drinking water treatment.

Page Updated: Tuesday 4 August 2020
Contact page owner: Health Protection NSW