SARS-CoV-2 and the future of wastewater-based epidemiology

Wastewater-based epidemiology is becoming more widely known as a tool in the fight against COVID-19, in part because of a project from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC is continuing to build its National Wastewater Surveillance System, testing samples twice weekly from up to 500 wastewater facilities across the country.

LuminUltra develops a rapid on-site SARS-CoV-2 testing solution.

Testing wastewater to gather targeted public health information in a population has been around for decades, but it has perhaps never been more valuable than it is now. With the explosion of the Omicron variant, some jurisdictions have placed restrictions on quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) testing and moved to a voluntary self-reporting system of rapid antigen testing. Wastewater testing is a non-invasive cost-effective method to get an accurate picture of how prevalent the virus is at the community level.

This renewed focus on wastewater-based epidemiology has also resulted in the development of a new technology that enables people with limited training to perform a wastewater test and obtain results on-site in under two hours, rather than shipping samples off to a laboratory and waiting days or weeks for results.

The future of wastewater-based epidemiology is in localised testing with accessible technology, and it is already here.

The CDC relies on LuminUltra’s existing network of physical and mobile laboratories across the US to ensure samples are collected and tested.

CDC National Wastewater Surveillance System
In September 2020, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched the National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS). This is the first national wastewater testing programme in the US, and its purpose is to measure the levels of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater and track infection trends, both symptomatic and asymptomatic, at the community level.

The system coordinates wastewater surveillance programmes implemented by state, territorial and tribal health departments, to collect localised data that can then be analysed to determine local or national trends. Health departments use this information to adjust their pandemic response as necessary.

The CDC has been developing the NWSS by focusing on four areas:

  • Offering technical assistance to implementing jurisdictions
  • Creating a data portal for centralised data submission and standardised data analysis visualisation
  • Coordinating communities of practice to share best practices among health departments, public health laboratories, and utilities
  • Building epidemiology and laboratory capacity for wastewater surveillance at health departments

Last December, with the transmission of the Omicron variant becoming more widespread, the CDC announced it was partnering with LuminUltra Technologies to gate data from up to 500 wastewater treatment plants across the country until March 2022 to test for SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater. The testing will identify not just the presence of the virus but also the genetic mutations associated with Delta and Omicron variants.

Jordan Schmidt, PhD is director, product applications, at LuminUltra Technologies.

The full article is available on the latest edition of Water & Wastewater Asia Mar/Apr 2022 issue. To continue reading, click here.