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COVID-19 viral fragments detected in Airlie Beach sewage

3 September 2020

Viral fragments of COVID-19 have been detected in a sample from the Cannonvale-Airlie Beach sewage treatment plant. 

The sample 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.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said the surveillance program was just one part of a wider response to COVID-19 and that a positive sample was no concern for the community.

“Early on in the response, I asked our Hospital and Health Services to be ready to respond to any scenario and to stand up pop-up testing clinics. This research is helping us to inform our response and supports the need for ongoing vigilance and testing,” Dr Young said.

“I’m not concerned about the finding of these viral fragments and it should be of no concern to the community, but just to put everyone’s minds at ease, we have stood up a pop-up testing clinic at the Airlie Beach Lagoon carpark till Sunday from 10am to 4pm. If anyone has COVID-19 symptoms, no matter how mild, they should go and get tested.

“A positive sewage result meant that someone who has been infected was shedding the virus. Infected people can shed viral fragments and that shedding can happen for several weeks after the person is no longer infectious. The viral fragments themselves are not infectious.

“Drinking water is treated before it reaches your tap and is safe to drink and shower. There is no risk in watering your garden or swimming.

“It’s also important to remember that the usual wastewater treatment processes are specifically designed to get rid of microorganisms, including viruses, by removing or killing them, before any water is returned to the environment.

“Just like anywhere else in Queensland, it remains the case that it’s really important that anyone with symptoms gets tested.

“So, anyone feeling unwell with even the mildest of COVID-19 symptoms should go and get tested as soon as possible, and self-isolate until they get their result. Stay at home, don’t have visitors, and don’t go to work, or anywhere else, until you get your test results and know you are clear of COVID-19.”

Further wastewater testing will be undertaken as the research program continues, and more information on the program itself will be released when appropriate.

If you have symptoms, please go and get tested. More Information on testing and where you can get tested can be found here

Queensland Health is coordinating a limited, pilot wastewater surveillance program for SARS-CoV-2 across Queensland to increase our understanding of how a program like this might help public health officials better understand the extent of COVID-19 infections in communities.

The scope of this program includes south east Queensland and a limited number of other sites, based on major population centres and tourism hubs. The program commenced mid-July and will run for 13 weeks. Current locations are listed below, but may change:

  • Brisbane
  • Ipswich
  • Logan
  • Gold Coast
  • Sunshine Coast
  • Hervey Bay
  • Mackay
  • Cannonvale-Airlie Beach
  • Townsville
  • Cairns


Last updated: 3 September 2020