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UNLV researchers tracking Las Vegas Flu season through wastewater

Posted at 8:28 AM, Oct 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-21 11:45:36-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Researchers at UNLV are tracking the Las Vegas Flu season through wastewater studies.

They’ve been studying wastewater in Clark County to track COVID-19 for months, but now the program is expanding.

Dr. Edwin Oh is an associate professor at UNLV. He is working with the Southern Nevada Health District and Southern Nevada Water Authority on the wastewater project.

Dr. Oh says right now, we don't know a lot about how the COVID-19 and Flu virus interact, which is why it's important we monitor the season closely.

Last year we had a mild Flu season because of all the strict mitigation measures in place for COVID-19. Now that people are back to work and Las Vegas is open to travelers, Dr. Oh says there is a concern we'll see the Flu virus make a strong return.

RELATED: Flu cases plummeted during the 2020-2021 season, CDC says

UNLV does this research by studying particles that are flushed down the toilet. The data is specific to each neighborhood.

Previously, scientists could only check if a virus was present in wastewater but now, they can see which strains of the virus are present in different communities. Dr. Oh says this could help improve the effectiveness of vaccines.

“With this type of information, we think it will help in the prediction of vaccines that are more likely to work in Las Vegas to somewhere in Israel,” Dr. Oh said.

Dr. Oh says they'd like to put this data to work by going to communities with high virus numbers, testing real people and then deploying the public health resources needed in specific communities.

The wastewater program can also monitor where drug use is happening. In the future, Dr. Oh says we may be able to use that data to make informed decisions about where we want to live and which communities need more counseling services.