What's in your poop? CDC program checks stool for COVID virus amid sickness surge

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Stool study shows COVID-19 surge

CDC officials are warning the nation about a surge in COVID-19 cases among other respiratory illnesses like RSV and the flu. A new program studying stool shows people infected with the virus shed it in their poop.

CDC officials are warning of a surge in COVID-19 cases among other flu-like illnesses nationwide. This comes as people are returning from holiday travel plans. Experts say they’ve also seen a sharp decline in vaccinations.

With little social distancing at holiday gatherings and many dealing with vaccine fatigue, officials say hospitalizations related to COVID-19 have gone up significantly. They say the proof is in the CDC’s wastewater surveillance system.

"We are seeing that levels are very high across the country," said Dr. Amy Kirby from the CDC's National Wastewater Surveillance System.

Dr. Kirby says our poop shows infection rates are surging. Hospitalizations in the U.S. are up 20-percent and emergency room visits are up nearly 13-percent just this week.

"We are seeing lots of transmissions equivalent to what we saw at the peak last year, so in 2023," said Dr. Kirby.

The CDC has been keeping a watchful on transmission through its wastewater surveillance system since 2020.

"What we know is that people infected with the virus that causes COVID will shed that virus in their stool," she said. "So, we take a sample as it comes into the wastewater treatment plant and measure how much of that virus is present," she said.

Dr. Amy Kirby is the lead over the program. She says the agency has more than 1,500 wastewater treatment sites collecting samples nationwide.

"Collectively, all of those sites represent 40-percent of Americans," she told FOX 5 Atlanta.

That includes those in the state of Georgia where some doctors say they’ve seen an increasing number of patients coming in sick.

"In my own practice, I know there is a spike in COVID because we actually ran out of COVID-19 test kits last week," said Dr. Cecil Bennett from Newnan Family Medicine.

Dr. Bennett says he believes vaccine fatigue is partially to blame.

"Individuals, even though we’re a couple years away from the height of COVID, just don’t want to get vaccinated one more time," he said.

Like officials with the CDC, he is urging vaccinated residents to get the latest booster shot, stay home if they’re feeling sick and wear masks to slow the spread.

With other viral illnesses like the flu and RSV also trending upward, CDC officials say they are working to expand the wastewater surveillance system to monitor those illnesses as well.