LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- A technique that's been used to track COVID-19 in the community could soon be used for other illnesses.

For roughly a year, researchers at UNLV have been experimenting with wastewater testing, checking sewage for traces of COVID-19 variants.

In early September, they used that test to detect the Mu variant in the valley. Now, they're expanding the program to look for the flu virus.

Dr. Edwin Oh, who runs the program, said it's important to focus on the flu now because it largely went away during the pandemic.

He said that's because everyone was taking health precautions like wearing masks and keeping their distance. As a result, they don't have much data to work with from last flu season, and as restrictions relax, many doctors predict the flu could make a comeback.

Dr. Oh said tracking the flu in wastewater will help them get ahead of it.

unlv wastewater

It will also allow them to see how the virus mutates over time, which will help doctors develop better vaccines.

"I think we're in this new era of thinking about the efficacy of vaccines. We're able to move and respond to new strains a lot more rapidly than before. Given that background and given new information about pathogens, like a new strain of influenza, we can develop these new vaccines a lot faster," he said.

They'll be working with 20 other states to share data about how the virus is spreading. The program has also been expanded to study other trends, like drug abuse.

Copyright 2021 KVVU (KVVU Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved


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