Environmental Sampling

Angie SzumlinskiHealth

Environmental sampling is an unbiased and unambiguous approach to locating where disease is spreading. Any person who produces virus, symptomatic or asymptomatic, spreads these viral particles into the environment. Most will be inactivated because of the harsh conditions outside the human body, however, as we have seen in tracking the rapid spread of the virus around the globe, some particles remain infectious on surfaces and in the air.

By sampling and measuring the presence of virus within a given community, environmental testing can identify viral presence weeks before other measures, such as contact tracing. Among the benefits is the fact that this allows health care groups to localize outbreaks and employ targeted contact tracing in these areas. Environmental testing has traditionally been a staple tool in investigating viral outbreaks, providing early recognition, and tracking new cases, including during the 2013 Netherlands measles outbreak and the polio outbreak in Pakistan.

By using environmental sampling of locations at risk of high spread, such as schools and nursing homes, contact tracing regimens could focus on new outbreaks before systemic viral spread occurs, and public lockdowns could be limited to areas with confirmed outbreaks. Most literature on the topic of the spread of COVID-19 indicates that fomite transmission is highly unlikely. Now, reading this it raises the question, are we sure?

Stay the course, stay strong, mask up, get vaccinated, and stay tuned!