Spread of New Omicron Subvariant BA.2.12.1 in Missouri is Tracked Through Wastewater Testing

    By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science & Technology 

    The spread of Omicron’s latest subvariant BA.2.12.1 in Missouri is documented through wastewater testing done in a University of Missouri School of Medicine laboratory in Columbia, Missouri. Early in the pandemic, Marc Johnson, PhD, professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the University of Missouri School of Medicine partnered with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to track COVID-19 and its variants in the state. It’s called the Sewershed Surveillance Project,

    ”BA.2.12.1 is very rapidly spreading through the state,” said Johnson. “We have seen BA.2.12.1 in about a dozen sewer sheds so far. But if you look in the database at that point in time (when identified in wastewater), there were only four confirmed (patient) cases. The patient sequencing is always a few weeks behind.” 

    Johnson’s lab collects samples every week from wastewater treatment facilities across the state. Johnson identified genetic material from B.A.2.12.1 in wastewater, from human waste, mostly in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. 

    “The areas we’re seeing this variant is where we’re seeing increases in RNA, which presumably means increases in cases,” said Johnson. “It’s not causing the kinds of rapid increases like we saw with Delta and with Omicron, but we haven’t crested yet. It could be that it’s just a slow burn and it will continue to get worse. I don’t know that. But what I can say right now is that the levels are going up in Missouri again slowly. They’re still low, but they are going in the wrong direction.”  

    Since early in the pandemic, Johnson’s methods of testing and tracking have proven to be reliable with insights and early warning. 

    “It (BA.2.12.1) is spreading faster than all the other Omicron variants right now. I’m sure within a week or two it will be the dominant lineage in the U.S.” 

    The Sewershed Surveillance Project has a website with tracking tools for anyone to follow: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/f7f5492486114da6b5d6fdc07f81aacf