OU Health Researchers Report Increase Of Flu Levels In Wastewater

Tuesday, December 14th 2021, 5:00 pm

It may be a dirty and smelly job, but researchers at the University of Oklahoma are making big discoveries in our wastewater.

"Everybody has to go to the bathroom,” said Phil Maytubby, director of the OKC-County Health Department. “ And that's what gets picked up in these samples."

Oklahoma's wastewater surveillance team at OU Health is predicting surges of diseases by looking at what goes down our toilets.

"The excellent thing about wastewater surveillance is we don't have to wait for any humans to develop symptoms and go to the doctor and get tested,” said Dr. Katrin Kuhn. “In the wastewater, we see the pathogens immediately."

Dr. Katrin Kuhn is an infectious disease epidemiologist and has been working throughout the pandemic to predict COVID and other disease surges about a week before case counts increase.

In recent weeks, teams in Oklahoma City and Tulsa have seen increased levels of Influenza A.

"We don't have a lot of good data to support how the concentrations we're seeing relates to human cases, but we're definitely seeing an increase in concentrations of influenza virus," said Kuhn.

Kuhn says it's something they're going to watch closely, as any surge in severe flu cases could put a strain on hospitals already dealing with staff shortages and COVID.

It's why doctors and public health leaders are encouraging the flu shot and the COVID vaccine.

"Those two can be co-administered,” said Maytubby. “Just remember that if you're going to go out and get a vaccination for one, you can get them both."

Researchers are also seeing a little bit more COVID in their samples in the past few weeks.

They are testing it for the Omicron variant, but say they're still waiting on sequencing data to come in.