Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young

September 18, 2020

Follow-up testing has proved negative after an earlier test found low-level viral fragments of COVID-19 in sewage at a Hervey Bay wastewater treatment plant.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeanette Young said the most likely cause of the viral fragments detected in the earlier test was virus shedding from a case that was no longer infectious.

“A negative result today doesn’t indicate a false positive in the previous test, nor does either result confirm the presence or absence of an unidentified confirmed case in the community,” Dr Young said.

“What it does do is reinforce the importance of getting tested if members of the community experience any COVID-19 symptoms, no matter how mild, including fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, fatigue or loss of sense of smell.”

High rates of testing are crucial to ensuring positive cases can be identified and isolated as quickly as possible, before they have the chance to unknowingly infect others around them.

The earlier positive result was found in a sample that was taken as part of a joint Queensland Health, University of Queensland and CSIRO pilot research program to test sewage for traces of COVID-19. Sampling has been taking place at several locations across Queensland since mid-July.

Dr Young said there was minimal risk to people as the viral fragments themselves were not infectious and did not confirm there were existing cases within the community.

“While the fragments indicate someone was shedding the virus, this can occur for several weeks after the person is no longer infectious and the fragments themselves are not infectious,” Dr Young said.

“On top of that, local drinking water is thoroughly treated through processes that are designed to remove or kill microorganisms before they reach your taps – so there is no risk when drinking water, showering, watering the garden, swimming or other activities.”

But Dr Young said it was a timely reminder for people to remain vigilant and get tested.

“The discovery of these fragments is a reminder that we should not be complacent and need to keep in place good hygiene practices, maintain social distancing and get tested if you have any symptoms, no matter how mild,” Dr Young said.

“It’s important to clean your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rubs, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or flexed elbow when coughing or sneezing, avoid touching your face or shaking hands, maintain a social distance of 1.5 metres in public and if unwell stay at home.”

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