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Calgary's wastewater is now being tested for flu and RSV cases


Deep in south Calgary, on the site of a sprawling wastewater treatment plant, a small group of researchers are now tracking the spread of influenza and RSV in Alberta.

A group called Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets (ACWA), made up of scientists from the city and the University of Calgary, have been testing wastewater for COVID-19 for nearly three years – now they've added additional testing during a busy respiratory virus season.

"With the rise in flu and RSV this year, we thought it's relatively straightforward to add those, so let's give Alberta Health and Albertans in general the advantage of seeing what's in the wastewater," said Kevin Frankowski, the executive director of ACWA.

The testing data is released publicly and provides a snapshot of whether cases of the respiratory viruses are going up or down in a given community.

"Having the information transparently available to all Albertans is important because it allows people to access the data on their own and make their own self risk-based decisions," Frankowski said.

Data in the last month and a half shows some reason for optimism in Calgary. Wastewater testing shows cases of influenza and COVID-19 are coming down from where they were at weeks ago, but RSV is still increasing.

"I think it is important to pay attention to predictive models for what's going to happen in the future, but I think the focus needs to be on the here and now, though," said Dr. Alika Lafontaine, an Alberta doctor and the head of the Canadian Medical Association.

"We know emergency rooms are being overfilled," he said, pointing out that while the wastewater data may be trending down, it's coming down from high levels after an especially difficult start to flu season in the province.

The respiratory virus season has been especially hard on young people and children's hospitals in the province. Alberta Health Services has had to redirect some staff to deal with hospitals that are exceeding 100 per cent capacity.

Lafontaine is advocating for stronger public health measures and more messaging to encourage people to get vaccinated and stay home if they're sick.

"Stress in health care really rolls down hill and it rolls down onto the shoulders of the people that provide care and the people who need care," he said. Top Stories

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