The material present in the lake water is only genetic fragments of the coronavirus and cannot further spread the disease.

Buddha statue during sunset on Hussain Sagar lakeImage Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Prawigya
Coronavirus Coronavirus Friday, May 14, 2021 - 15:17

The presence of genetic material of the novel coronavirus in Hussain Sagar and other lakes in Hyderabad could act as an early warning signal for future waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. A study conducted on a few lakes in Hyderabad —  including Hussain Sagar, Pedda Cheruvu (in Nacharam) and Nizam Talab — showed a surge in the SARS-CoV-2 genetic material present in the water samples starting from February 2021, coinciding with the onset of the second wave. 

The study was conducted by monitoring lake water samples over seven months, by scientists from the Council Of Scientific And Industrial Research–Indian Institute Of Chemical Technology (CSIR-IICT) and CSIR-CCMB (CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology) in Hyderabad, and AcSIR (Academy of Scientific and Innovative Research) in Ghaziabad. The presence of fragments of the virus in urban lakes has been attributed to the release of untreated sewage discharge from the surrounding population. While these genetic materials cannot further spread the disease, they can be used as a surveillance tool to understand and predict the onset and spread of infection in the community. 

Similar wastewater based epidemiology (WBE) studies are being carried out in many countries to track the virus, CCMB Director Dr Rakesh Mishra said. The material present in the lake water is only genetic fragments of the coronavirus and not the actual virus, and therefore there is no possibility of waterborne or fecal–oral transmission, he said. “Wherever there’s human activity and sewage release, viral components will be present. This means the presence of the virus can be monitored, and based on its increase and decrease, we can predict future waves,” he said, adding that efforts are on to set up similar surveillance across Indian cities, to track other pathogenic viruses as well.  

Apart from the three urban lakes mentioned earlier, a peri-urban lake (Edulabad Lake near Ghatkesar) and a rural lake (Pothuraju lake) were also monitored in the study.  However, the novel coronavirus genes were not detected in these lakes, but only in  the urban lakes “having direct functional attributes from domestic activity in the community,” the study said. This means that urban waste water bodies can act as a proxy for surveillance studies, and help in understanding the spread of the virus in the community residing in the lake’s catchment area, the study concluded. 

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