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Eugene's wastewater monitored for viruses as population swells with track and field fans

testing sewage hole.jpg
Oregon State University
Each day during the World Track and Field Championships, wastewater will be collected from sewage lines like this one and tested for viruses.

As tens of thousands of guests from 200 countries descend upon Eugene for the World Athletics Championships, scientists will use it as an opportunity to test the community’s sewage for viruses.

Each day during the championships, wastewater will be collected and tested for COVID-19 and other viruses of interest. Lane County’s Senior Public Health Officer Dr. Patrick Luedtke explained why.

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Oregon State University
A special sewage surveillance project testing for viruses in wastewater during the 2022 World Track and Field Championships in Eugene, is modeled after groundbreaking work started at OSU.

“With an agent like COVID, we really want to know if there’s some new crazy variant that shows up,” he told KLCC. “So, we’ll see what’s circulating in our community. And if we find something other than the other omicron variants, we can do deeper characterization, you know, more testing to find out just what that variant is and that will give us a head’s up.”

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Lane County Public Health video
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Dr. Patrick Luedtke is Lane County's Senior Public Health Official and heads up the special sewage sequencing project, testing for viruses in wastewater in Eugene during the World Athletics Championships

Luedtke said testing will also be performed for hepatitis A and E, measles, polio and more. The Oregon Heath Authority, in collaboration with Lane County and university research partners, will share daily wastewater testing results on a new OHA website.
Here’s a link.

Dr. Luedtke said there are four levels of reporting, low levels of the virus, moderate, strong or very strong. They are dependent upon the amount of viral RNA found per measured liter of sewage. This kind of testing is not cheap. Luedtke said it costs thousands of dollars but it’s worth it to discover what viruses are present and spreading.

“When you think about, how is it that we made vaccines? COVID virus leapt into humanity in late December in 2019. And within a month, the genetic profile of it was published so that the whole world could look at it start making vaccines,” Luedtke said. “That gave us a really big head start to get vaccines done in the same calendar year.”

Hayward field karen richards.jfif
Karen Richards
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KLCC
Tens of thousands of guests from 200 countries will be eating, shopping and sleeping in Eugene while attending the World Athletics Championships at Hayward Field. Visitors will also be adding to the wastewater that will be tested for several viruses.

This special sewage surveillance project during the 2022 World Track and Field Championships in Eugene, is modeled after groundbreaking work on wastewater testing first conducted at Oregon State University. Oregon’s wastewater surveillance program now operates in more than 40 communities.

Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked in a variety of media including television and daily print news. For KLCC, Tiffany reports on health care, social justice and local/regional news. She has won awards from Oregon Associated Press, PRNDI, and Education Writers Association.