Smart toilets could play a role in future COVID-19 tracking efforts, says new article published in Nature† The Aauthors describe a smart toilet platform called the Coronavirus: Integrated Diagnostic Toilet, with a bidet-like attachment equipped to test fecal material for COVID-19 that can isolate fecal RNA.
Users can use a QR code to agree to the stool samples. The platform then digitally warns a patient about their disease status. Researchers explained that the results can be linked to existing “Bluetooth contact tracing systems implemented by Apple and Google for reports of exposure to COVID-19.” The results may also provide public health authorities with “individualized, longitudinal data.”
“A smart toilet can access this underutilized data without requiring significant user intervention, and may even bypass potential behavioral fatigue associated with routine COVID-19 testing,” the authors wrote.
Researchers and government agencies have previously used wastewater to track the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“Measuring SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations in wastewater can enable the prediction of possible adjacent viral hotspots, and sequencing them can identify emerging variants or establish viral mapping of the most transmissible variants.”
The study authors point out that wastewater tracking has limitations due to the variability of the wastewater system. The tracking is also targeted at the population level. However, a smart toilet has the potential to go one step further and tell individuals about their COVID-19 status.
To be successful, the authors said the smart toilets must “ideally” deliver participants’ test results within 15 minutes, be fully automated, provide a hygienic environment for users, securely connect data to a centralized network, and hold user data. de-identify when uploaded to a trace network.
“However, the success of such a strategy depends on user adoption. Certain institutions, such as military barracks or naval vessels, that have experienced rapid and widespread outbreaks are virtually guaranteed that their residents will use the COV-ID toilet if it is installed , but consent is likely required for individualized testing.
“In the general public, people may avoid the toilets or agree to testing if they feel there is a risk to privacy or are otherwise averse to testing.”
WHY IT MATTER
Since the start of the pandemic, the CDC has reported nearly 80 million COVID-19 cases and just under a million COVID-19 deaths.
However, the number of COVID-19 cases nationwide has declined since they peaked in January 2022. The agency reports that 81.8% of individuals over the age of 5 have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
THE BIGGER TREND
Sewage has played a key role in detecting COVID-19 trends for more than a year now. In February 2022, the CDC added wastewater monitoring to its digital COVID-19 data tracker. The tool shows virus levels in wastewater from the past 15 days. Users can also access information about the percentage of positive tests from a particular area in the past 15 days.