TESTING numbers for COVID-19 have halved in the Hunter since August, with health authorities urging residents not to put new symptoms down to hayfever.
It comes as sewage testing across seven catchment areas in the region returned little to no signs of the virus in the community.
Testing numbers for COVID-19 in NSW dropped to 8835 in the 24 hours to 8pm on Monday, and Hunter figures are following the same downward trend.
"In the week ending the 16th of August in Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Maitland and Port Stephens, we had 12,303 tests," public health physician, Dr David Durrheim, said. "Unfortunately, in the week ending September 13, we had 6242 tests - an almost halving of the testing numbers in those four local government areas."
Dr Durrheim said some of that decline could be put down to a reduction in the number of the "usual winter viruses", and a lower proportion of people with cold or flu-like symptoms.
"But we also know the wattles have bloomed - and that people who suffer from hayfever and allergies would certainly be presenting with some of the symptoms that are common with COVID, especially with the milder forms," he said. "Coughing, fatigue, headaches, sore throats, and a congested or runny nose are shared symptoms of both COVID and seasonal allergies.
"If you have onset of hayfever, get a swab and make sure it's not COVID, and if the symptoms do change or get worse, it's worth getting re-tested."
Dr Durrheim said sewage testing in the region was proving to be a useful tool in detecting the virus.
Reassuringly, no signs of the virus had been detected in the past two weeks - although we should not become complacent.
"We had the detect in Burwood Beach in the first week of August, and that was quite a high viral count," he said.
"There were at least six people potentially shedding virus in the catchment, which included the Charlestown-Dudley areas and central Newcastle. That's a catchment of 220,000 people, so it was quite astounding we were able to detect virus with maybe six people shedding.
"It went away for two weeks, then we got a very low detect in the week of the 24th of August."
Initially, they were unsure if it was a re-introduction of the virus or if it was from a previously known case - as people could shed it over four weeks.
"We have watched very carefully over the past two weeks, and there has been no further detections," he said. "We think it was probably one of our remaining local shedders."
They were planning to expand sewage testing to Forster during the school holidays.
"It does look as though this is going to be a very useful ancillary surveillance system that might prompt us to push more testing where it is needed, or sleuth which particular suburbs in the community might be affected," Dr Durrheim said.
"It seems to be really sensitive. We want to really be sure we are looking very intently for any re-introduction of the virus in our area."
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