University researchers aim to study COVID-19 in natural environment

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A group of researchers from the University of Michigan is currently study coronavirus concentrations in public spaces around the Ann Arbor campus, hoping to link their findings to the risks of infection.

Rick Neitzel, associate professor of environmental health sciences at the School of Public Health, wrote in an email to The Daily that the project will hopefully provide insight into an aspect of the virus that has yet to be seen. studied.

“Other universities are currently sampling wastewater for the virus, but few, if any, other universities are also sampling the virus in the environment, so we think the results of our pilot study will be useful to a point. from a scientific and practical point of view. ”, Wrote Neitzel.

Because the majority of coronavirus studies examine how infection rates can be tracked, these researchers believe their findings will offer a different perspective on the pandemic. They believe virus concentrations and infection rates are somehow related and hope to find the answer here on campus.

Rather than focusing on individual spaces such as personal vehicles or bathrooms, the team samples public spaces. Samples are taken from environments to which many people on campus are exposed, such as mess rooms, classrooms and even the air. The aim is to study common spaces that experience high traffic rather than private spaces that see less potential exposure.

Public health junior Eden Rotonda sees the study as a step in the right direction.

“It’s one way of knowing how to handle the disease,” Rotonda said. “It will give us a way to process it and know how it is transmitted. It would show us what to do if it happened again. ”

Chuanwu Xi, professor of environmental health sciences at the School of Public Health, conducts research focused on microbes in the environment and human health. He said current studies focus on identifying the presence of the virus in high-risk places such as hospitals and doctors’ offices, but the contamination of common public spaces has not yet been sufficiently studied.

Xi and his colleagues are also developing an early warning and early intervention platform.

“We are working to develop a platform that can be applied to study and monitor other microbial pathogens in the environment during and before potential future pandemics,” Xi said.

Along with Neitzel and Xi, Public Health School’s Tim Dvonch and Alfred Franzblau maintain a realistic mindset while leading this groundbreaking research. This is the first of their many attempts to detect a sufficient amount of viral particles from environmental samples, and they know their study cannot answer all questions related to COVID-19.

Journalist for the daily Meghana Lodhavia can be reached at mlod@umich.edu.


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