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Houston Health Department now testing wastewater at schools for flu and COVID-19

In addition to schools, they're pulling wastewater samples from nursing homes and shelters.

HOUSTON — Although COVID-19 testing is way up, many cases detected in home health tests aren't reported back to health officials. That’s why testing Houston’s wastewater has become the most accurate way to track the spread of the virus in the city.

Now the Houston Health Department is looking for the influenza virus in wastewater too.

Dr. Loren Hopkins with HHD says they launched the pilot program in the fall. They’re specifically tracking the flu at schools, nursing homes and shelters. They’re starting to see an uptick in the virus in wastewater samples.

“You know, flu is dangerous for everybody but it’s really, really dangerous for children,” Dr. Hopkins said.    

With students returning to the classroom this week, the most recent samples were from before winter break. The Houston Health Department detected the flu virus at two schools in December.

“If we do see flu in the wastewater, we have a strike team that notifies the school. The nurse manager will know there is flu, as we do every week with COVID. They can take extra precautions and notify parents. We can really push flu shots and use it as an informational tool that this is something we really need to take care of,” Dr. Hopkins explained.

Dr. Hopkins says they will be sharing data with the CDC, because the Houston Health Department is one of the first in the country using this technology to track flu.

On Monday, Texas Children's Hospital reported its first case of co-infection in a patient with both the flu and COVID-19.

WATCH: More stories about COVID-19

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