As the world fights to trace the novel coronavirus, one team of scientists realized that poop might just hold the answer. By testing wastewater in Calgary, they're able to predict COVID-19 days before symptoms appear, detecting outbreaks without anyone having to go in for a test. They said the research could have huge effects on public health in the future.

"It's really amazing actually," said Dr. Casey Hubert, who leads the Geomicrobiology Group at the University of Calgary. His is one of the project's two labs scanning wastewater for signs of the virus that causes COVID-19.

"Infected people will have virus in their GI tract," Hubert explained, continuing that the virus will appear in people's poop long before the first symptoms arrive.

By checking samples of wastewater, his team is then able to see just how much virus is present in an area by using the same technique (called RT-PCR) used in many COVID-19 tests.

"If you think about people that are unknowingly affected, you're not going to go into the clinical test," said Hubert. "But if you test the wastewater in their neighbourhood, that signal will be part of the aggregate signal you get."

This way, although they aren't able to say which households in particular have COVID-19, they could pinpoint certain areas as virus "hotspots."

"The shutdown measures have been brutal, right?" said Hubert. "But what if we could pinpoint it to where the problems are?"

He explained that, instead of shutting the whole city down, we could instead close bars and restaurants in the specific areas with hotspots. It would save a ton of resources, he said.

And, as worries about a second wave start to mount, Hubert said this technique could predict cases way sooner than before. Instead of waiting for people to get tested, we could see the virus counts rising even before symptoms set in.

"What if we could see everything one week sooner?" he said.

"The wastewater is sort of like the great equalizer. It's a very inclusive strategy; nobody's left behind," said Hubert.

Instead of waiting for tests or even facing discrimination while trying to get tested, this new technique could let you know ahead of the curve.

And it's all thanks to the power of poop.

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