RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – When you flush, your stuff ends up at your local water treatment plant. It’s not pretty to look at or even think about, but your stool can be a valuable tool in the fight against COVID-19.

“Whenever you do your daily business, if you are shedding the virus, it will go into the wastewater system,” said Dr. Rachel Noble, a distinguished professor of marine sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Institute of Marine Sciences.

Noble tracks coronavirus that makes it into wastewater treatment facilities across the state.

“You can really quickly see that if someone doesn’t have symptoms, if they haven’t been tested, they’re still being captured by wastewater analysis,” said Noble.

Her lab collects samples from two dozen water treatment plants across the state. Those samples are taken to her lab for analysis. The information from the collected wastewater almost gives her lab a crystal ball. Noble said it can predict trends up to six days early.

“We’re not focusing on an individual or even just a family. We’re getting an overall pulse of what’s going on in the community. By doing this, we can actually throw our resources at communities,” said Noble.

New data released Thursday shows more coronavirus is showing up in wastewater facilities around Wilson and south Durham. A look at data collected from Raleigh showed more virus showing up in the last month than any time in the last year.

This look-ahead allows the state to plan where they may need to increase testing or where to expect increased hospitalizations.

What the data cannot tell researchers is the number of people infected in a given community or how sick they are.

“People wake up and they might live in one town, but they actually leave that town and they go to the next town to go to work, and then they come back. So there’s some transient nature of the population where if an infected individual is going different places. They’re going to be captured in different places,” said Noble.

It’s important to underscore you cannot catch COVID-19 from treated or untreated water. Ultimately, Noble hopes this can be used with other illnesses when the pandemic is behind us. She said statewide, permanent wastewater surveillance is in the works.

“There’s a lot of work ahead of us but I feel like we’ve started a really good foundation for continuing this surveillance work well into the future,” Noble said.