Sewage monitoring may hold key to handling future pandemics

Rakesh Mishra, director of Tata Institute for Genetics and Society.

Rakesh Mishra, director of Tata Institute for Genetics and Society. | Photo Credit: ARRANGEMENT

The COVID19 caseload of Karnataka, or specifically Bengaluru, has always been higher during any wave as compared to Telangana, particularly Hyderabad. It could be due to higher infection rate or increased testing, but there is no denying that health authorities there had access to precise data about the virus, thanks to efficient sewage surveillance.

“We have tied up with the local municipal authorities and other scientific institutions to monitor samples from the sewage treatment plants and wastewater flows to check the infection rate. It is possible to deduce the possible peak or plateau in cases at least a week in advance for the government to make decisions on imposing or lifting curbs,” says Tata Institute for Genetics and Society (TIGS) director Rakesh Mishra.

Sewage surveillance would help in public health responses and preventive care like technological tools used to forecast cyclones and monsoons, helping the governments protect millions of lives and avoid enormous economic loss. “The best part is with a small investment, we can have amazing results with non-obtrusive, non-invasive methods like blood samples or the likes,” he points out, in an exclusive interaction.

The former CSIR-CCMB director is quite convinced that the “next big public health issue” will be ‘antibiotic resistance’ among the population, and calls for “proper watch before it explodes” . “Sewage surveillance can be a very effective component and is going to be the future model not only for the COVID pandemic but also in forecasting the next pandemic or even major infectious disease outbreak at the population level,” he explains.

Mr. Mishra, credited to have initiated many COVID research projects in testing, surveillance, diagnostics, vaccines and others, now shuttles between both institutes, for his own research and to guide PhD students at his lab in CCMB.

TIGS, founded in 2017 and funded by the Tata Trusts, is a ‘programme-driven non-profit institute’, functioning from within new DBT-inStem premises on the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) campus in Bengaluru with key programs to address societal problems such as infectious diseases, rare genetic disorders, and crop improvement.

There is great scope for solving problems like identifying, early intervention and treating rare genetic diseases by collaborating with institutions like CCMB along with clinical partners in finding affordable genetic testing protocols. “With effective screening, prenatal testing and counselling, we can think of eliminating such diseases in two generations,” he says.

“We are also exploring traditional knowledge by modern scientific validation approach for eco-friendly and effective control of the vector-borne diseases instead of taking up intrusive technologies,” adds Mr Mishra.

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Printable version | Jul 29, 2022 6:49:08 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/sewage-monitoring-may-hold-key-to-handling-future-pandemics/article65183430.ece