A team from Australia's national science agency has successfully tested the wastewater from long-haul flights for traces of the virus that causes COVID-19.
In a study published on Monday, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) said it detected trace elements of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater samples from 24 of 37 flights carrying returning Australians from COVID-19 hotspots.
In order to fly to Australia from overseas passengers must test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of departure.
The CSIRO findings prove that coronavirus can be detected in wastewater before carriers show symptoms.
Warish Ahmed, the lead author of the study, said wastewater testing could be a valuable method to screen incoming passengers for COVID-19 as Australia reopens to the world after 18 months.
"It provides an extra layer of data if there is a possible lag in viral detection in deep nasal and throat samples and if passengers are yet to show symptoms," he said in a media release.
"The rapid on-site surveillance of wastewater at points of entry may be effective for detecting and monitoring other infectious agents that are circulating globally and provide alert to future pandemics."
According to the CSIRO, infected people can shed the virus in their faeces two to five days before developing symptoms.
However, it can also be detected in people who were previously infected but are no longer infectious.
As of Monday morning, Australia reported 2,185 new locally acquired COVID-19 infections and 12 deaths.