LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- Scientists at University of Nevada, Las Vegas have detected traces of the more infectious U.K. COVID-19 variant in wastewater samples across the Las Vegas Valley, suggesting the new strain of the virus has spread to an unknown number of people in the region.
Six confirmed cases have been documented by the Southern Nevada Health District, all tied to a Las Vegas woman in her 30s who did not recently travel outside of Las Vegas.
The SNHD is working with the UNLV Lab of Neurogenetics and Precision Medicine to determine the strain's spread. The lab has the task of surveying wastewater from different parts of the valley.
"The virus is shed from fecal matter. If we are infected, we are going to shed the virus into the sewage," said Associate Professor Edwin Oh, who is helping lead the team of researchers and students in the lab. "When you look at sewage, it's an aggregate of everyone in the community from where that wastewater is coming from," Oh said.
The team receives samples from at least nine locations in the valley each week, Oh said, and several samples from different areas have been flagged for traces of the U.K. variant.
"We have seen this variant show up in four or five locations. It hasn't been a consistent signal, but the fact that it has shown up suggests that it's in significant numbers," Oh said.
"The presence of this variant is a lot more prevalent than one, two, ten, one hundred people. Chances are, it's in larger communities right now. We are sequencing clinical isolates from people to confirm that might be true," he said.
Oh's team will share the data with SNHD and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who can then notify the public.
"We can better target information screening of individuals. We'll know which communities might be vulnerable, and we will have that information," Oh said.
Oh's team is also on the lookout for new strains, to aid the medical community in its vaccine research.