New Methods Enable Earlier Detection of COVID-19 Outbreaks via Wastewater

Mar 4, 2022

Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) is the analysis of wastewater to identify the presence of biologicals or chemicals for the purpose of monitoring public health. WBE has previously been used for detecting pharmaceutical and industrial waste, as well as monitoring rates of opioid abuse within communities.1 Several countries have even successfully limited the spread of polio and hepatitis A outbreaks using WBE.2,3

During the COVID-19 pandemic, WBE emerged as a critical epidemiological tool for gathering population-wide data on infection rates. Researchers found early in the pandemic that SARS-CoV-2 genetic material could be detected both in the feces of infected individuals and, later, in wastewater samples.4,5 However, no culturable SARS-CoV-2 virus was found in the wastewater. This led many research groups and public health organizations to investigate wastewater surveillance systems for monitoring the SARS-CoV-2 levels in sewage systems.
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