The COVID pandemic put wastewater in the spotlight as a valuable, early signal to detect changes in illness in the community.
This detection system informed experts and leaders in the early days of the pandemic when very little was known about COVID. Wastewater analysis has expanded in Santa Clara County to better understand the presence of other diseases, including flu, RSV, norovirus, and mpox.
Everyone uses the bathroom
When someone has a disease such as the flu, the virus shows up in their poop and other body fluids, travels through sewage pipes, and makes its way to wastewater treatment facilities in Santa Clara County. Wastewater plants in Santa Clara County serve a majority of the county population. Higher concentrations of genomic material in a wastewater sample means more people may be infected in the community.
Wastewater data is available sooner than case results, which is why it is called an “early signal” for understanding if infections are increasing or decreasing within the community, or if new diseases are showing up. This allows the Public Health Department to prioritize public health actions that can be taken, such as community outreach, and can help hospitals prepare for surges.
Other wastewater resources:
Wastewater Based Epidemiology Program
The Wastewater Based Epidemiology Program was established based on a successful collaboration with Stanford University, County of Santa Clara Public Health Department and the four regional wastewater treatment facilities in Gilroy, Palo Alto, San Jose and Sunnyvale:
- South County Regional Wastewater Authority
- Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control Plant
- San Jose-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility
- Donald M. Somers Water Pollution Control Plant
The ongoing commitment from our partners has helped to create a sustainable program in the Department that continues to provide valuable information about the spread of diseases in our community.