Czech researchers: Wastewater analysis could predict a second wave of coronavirus

A system detecting the novel coronavirus in wastewater might serve as a warning of a new infection wave, research of the T. G. Masaryk Water Research Institute (VUV) in Prague has shown.

Researchers have revealed coronavirus traces in wastewater from small water treatment plants. Samples taken Tuesday will now be assessed to find out how accurate this method is, according to Daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD), a daily newspaper in the Czech Republic.

So far, six countries have participated in this research.

“If it turns out that this is a reliable tool, I perceive it as one of the possible approaches to be used to identify a possible second wave of the infection,” State Health Institute infectious diseases epidemiology section head Jan Kyncl said.

Scientists have been surprised since the beginning that they found no coronavirus traces in wastewater from big water treatment plants in areas with proven incidence of the COVID-19 disease, Hana Mlejnkova, from the VUV, who is responsible for the research project, told MfD.

However, the situation has changed with the results from small water treatment plants near villages where the virus traces were found, though the number of the infected was much lower there than in large towns on average. This might be influenced by a low dilution of wastewater and a short pipeline.

Consequently, small water treatment plants might serve as a certain coronavirus alarm in the future, the publication says.

“Critical localities with a presupposed threat of a quite high number of infected inhabitants and with concentrated wastewater at the same time will probably have to be selected,” Mlejnkova said.

The collected data will be compared with the numbers of the infected in the localities where wastewater was analyzed.

Ideally, it will be possible not only to specify those infected with COVID-19  in the respective locality but also their number in the future.

However, it is not yet certain who will fund the tests. If they are not covered from the public budget, it would financially burden water managers immensely, MfD writes.

Bacteria and viruses get into wastewater with feces. However, the coronavirus incidence in wastewater does not pose a risk, as only its lifeless residuum has been found there, according to the current findings.

The Veterinary Research Institute based in Brno is assessing the samples, MfD writes.