Drone photo of Hervey Bay's Pulgul Creek Sewage Treatment Plant.
Drone photo of Hervey Bay's Pulgul Creek Sewage Treatment Plant.

COVID SEWAGE EXPLAINER: Why results differ and what’s next

SOMEWHERE in the vast murky waters of Hervey Bay's Pulgul St waste water treatment plant lurked the remnants of a potentially lethal virus.

The imagery is as unpleasant as the science which detected it is fascinating.

For the woman leading Queensland's COVID-19 response this research could also prove to be a powerful weapon in the fight against community transmission.

 

EARLIER THIS WEEK: Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young during a press conference in Brisbane. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Tertius Pickard
EARLIER THIS WEEK: Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young during a press conference in Brisbane. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Tertius Pickard

Speaking exclusively to the Chronicle on Friday the state's Chief Health Officer Dr Jeanette Young explained what the testing meant for the Fraser Coast.

This was after Queensland Health confirmed on Friday morning that a sample taken from the Pulgul St plant had returned a positive result.

That sample had been taken late last week.

A follow up sample, taken this week, was also tested and the result, which came back early Friday afternoon was negative.

Dr Young said the "negative result didn't indicate a false positive in the previous test, nor did either result confirm the presence or absence of an unidentified confirmed case in the community".

She said given the low level of fragment found in the first test was likely the result of someone who was no longer infectious shedding the virus.

The difference in results within one week, she explained, could simply reflect the fact that the virus shed intermittently.

She also said there was a chance someone who had the virus had been visiting and was no longer in the area.

While the sewage research being carried out could not yet point to who and where the virus may have come from, Dr Young said it did raise red flags for a potential case or cluster risk in a region which did not previously have her attention.

Referring to recent data which showed about 50% of Australians who experienced fever and a cough - two symptoms "very suggestive" of COVID-19 - didn't get tested, Dr Young said the samples were a good way to find out whether there was a need for a "harder look" in some communities.

She said testing had increased in regions where people were armed with information about potential cases in their area and she hoped the Fraser Coast would follow suit.

Samples from the region's sewage plants are currently being taken weekly.

Dr Young said while any positive result in the sewage system was an "indicator there might be a problem" further restrictions would not be placed on a community simply because of sewage results, even if there were further plant positives.

Those measures she said, were still only taken when people tested positive to the virus and there was a risk of an outbreak.

While she hoped the news would encourage more people with symptoms to get tested Dr Young said there was no need for those who were well and had no symptoms to panic and get tested just in case.

Anyone with symptoms, sniffles and scratchy throats included, should get tested.

While fever and cough remained the top telling symptoms, nausea and diarrhoea were also on the list of things to look for.

In a year where social distancing, handwashing and more time at home had meant some of the lowest flu cases on record, Dr Young reminded residents symptoms usually associated with the flu were "more likely" in 2020 to be linked to COVID-19 and it was important people with these symptoms were tested particularly in a community where elderly residents made up a large percentage of the population.

Where to get tested

The Hervey Bay fever clinic is located at the council carpark adjacent to St Stephen's Hospital corner of Nissen Street and Medical Place, Urraween, and is open from 7.30am to 5.30pm each day.

The Maryborough fever clinic is located at Maryborough Hospital with its entrance off Yaralla Street and is open from 7.30am to 5.30pm.


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