The novel SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has caused the COVID-19 pandemic, has been detected in the feces of both symptomatic and asymptomatic people. Armed with this knowledge, multiple researchers around the world have postulated that the identification of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater, which can provide near real-time outbreak information, could be an important approach for monitoring the spread of the virus.
This method, known as wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE), may be able to act as an early-warning system for infectious disease outbreaks in general, and in the immediate future, could help predict the second wave of SARS-CoV-2 infections. For example, a 2018 publication from Brouwer et al. showed how a robust WBE program in Israel identified the 2013–2014 “silent polio outbreak” before any cases of polio were seen, allowing for the rapid deployment of a vaccination campaign.
Recently, researchers in the Netherlands, the United States, France and Australia have all conducted WBE studies to identify the novel coronavirus in wastewater and demonstrate the potential value of wastewater surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 infections in a community.
The Australian study from Ahmed et al. was the first of its kind in that country, and researchers reported the detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater in South Queensland. After the samples collected from wastewater catchments were concentrated and RNA was extracted, the researchers used real-time PCR (qPCR) to detect SARS-CoV-2. Due to the complexity of wastewater samples, the researchers recommend sequencing with RT-qPCR products for confirmation. They did just that using Sanger sequencing with an Applied Biosystems Genetic Analyzer to confirm the identify of SARS-CoV-2. The authors note that their preliminary findings establish the feasibility of WBE for SARS-CoV-2 monitoring at the community level, where it could potentially serve as an early-warning system for infections.
The US-based study from Wu et al. followed a similar process of using qPCR to detect SARS-CoV-2 and then performing Sanger sequencing of the qPCR products to confirm the results. The authors of this study concluded that WBE is a viable method for detecting the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 in communities around the world and that such data may even help inform decisions around the advancement, continuation or reduction of social distancing efforts.
Learn more about our Applied Biosystems Genetic Analyzers for Sanger sequencing and fragment analysis and our SARS-CoV-2 research solutions.
Read the papers
- Ahmed, W. et al. (2020) “First confirmed detection of SARS-CoV-2 in untreated wastewater in Australia: A proof of concept for wastewater surveillance of COVID-19 in the community.” Sci Total Environ., doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.138764.
- Wu, F.Q. et al. (2020) “SARS-CoV-2 titers in wastewater are higher than expected from clinically confirmed cases.” medRxiv preprint,doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.04.05.20051540.
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