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Catlin speaks at Rice University

Posted Date: 06/11/2024

Catlin speaks at Rice University

Wastewater Systems Manager Kathryn Catlin was recently invited to participate as a panelist at a national workshop on wastewater surveillance at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

Catlin said, “We are involved in two programs that test wastewater for viruses. We send samples, and I pass the results to the local health department.”

Catlin benefited from the conference because it provided a way to network with others in her field. 

“After COVID-19, we were invited to participate in the WasterWater Scan program, which collects and sends samples to a contracted laboratory that tests wastewater for viruses, such as the Nora Virus, SARS-COVID, Influenza A and B, and more.”

Harrison is the only city in Arkansas participating in this program. The panel was to provide information and answer questions for other wastewater treatment plants considering participating in the program.

“It was quite an honor to be asked to join the panelists,” she said. “The panel included academics, epidemiologists, local and state health department professionals, and wastewater treatment individuals. I was asked to discuss the resource optimization strategies we use to participate in the program.”

After the lab results return, Catlin sends a copy to the City and County Health Departments and the lab reports to the CDC and the State of Arkansas.

“It’s interesting because a recent spike in the Nora Virus, which can cause respiratory problems in the elderly and children, showed up in the Harrison wastewater statistics.”

The Health Department sent staff members to alert specific businesses of the spike and remind them of hand washing protocols. Only soap and water will kill a virus like that.

The numbers decreased, and a possible health crisis was averted. Catlin said, “We also had 20 visiting teams in town that weekend. So the surge of the virus might not have had anything to do with our local citizens.”

“It’s just very interesting information. We were asked to join this group, and they pay us to use our automatic sampler three times a week to send samples to the lab,” she said.

Members also received the benefit of meeting other counterparts in the public health sector and exchanging ideas. 

The Associate Director for Science, Division of Local Public Health, State Environmental Health Director for the Arkansas Department of Health, Dr. Richard McMullen, said, “I wish all my partners were like Kathryn. She is fantastic. She has been willing to participate from day one of this project. She’s always engaging with others. This is the future of public health, and people like Kathryn will help us get there.”

McCullen said the program is voluntary. “The information we glean from her monitoring is fantastic. She keeps the ball rolling in her own field. I’m a big fan.”

Catlin said, “The greater our knowledge of this program, the more we understand how important our participation and contribution is. The most important thing I learned from the workshop was that our Arkansas Health Department receives the data and how they have used it to identify possible areas of virus transmission. I learned the big picture scope of the wastewater scan (WWSCAN) program is to identify virus outbreaks and prevent their spread, which would help to prevent another deadly pandemic. I learned about the different organizations, universities, agencies, and utilities involved in the program. I also learned that other areas of the country are testing for additional viruses, such as polio.” 

She said the biggest takeaway from the workshop was that hand sanitizer doesn’t work on viruses. Washing your hands with soap and water is an effective means of preventing virus spread.