VANCOUVER -- B.C. health officials are experimenting with a new way to detect COVID-19 infections in communities – by testing for the virus in human waste.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry revealed Tuesday that the B.C. Centre for Disease Control has been working with other jurisdictions on what she described as "a fascinating project" that could serve as an early detection tool for new cases of the coronavirus.

"We have some expertise in assessing water samples for communicable disease and they're working to develop a way to be able to monitor wastewater across the province as an indicator of when the virus may be in our communities," Henry said.

Researchers have been testing samples from a facility that collects wastewater from Vancouver and parts of Surrey for the past five weeks.

While they know that COVID-19 can be shed in feces, and detectable in the virus's genetic material, officials said they have not detected the virus once since testing began.

"We have had no positives, which reflects the low level of transmission we're seeing in our communities right now," Henry said.

She noted that other countries have similar programs, including the Netherlands, Finland, Germany and Italy.

Italy has already detected the novel coronavirus in wastewater samples from December and January, Henry said, indicating the virus was likely circulating in parts of the country before anyone recognized it.

Once researchers are confident in their ability to test the virus locally using wastewater, officials said it will be most useful in smaller communities, mostly as a means of determining whether the virus is currently present in their area.