HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » Forums & Groups » Topics » Science » Science (Group) » The myriad ways sewage su...

Wed May 12, 2021, 03:33 AM

The myriad ways sewage surveillance is helping fight COVID around the world

This is a news item from Nature, which I hope is open sourced:

The myriad ways sewage surveillance is helping fight COVID around the world

Wastewater tracking was used before the pandemic to monitor for polio and illicit drug use, but interest in the field and its applications has now ballooned.


One of my earliest memories as a child was being amazed by toilet bowls, not only how they worked without requiring electricity (that I could see) but also where the "stuff" went.

It appears that fascination never really went away; I find myself thinking about this sewage all the time, not only in the very practical (and sometimes expensive) issue of maintaining my home septic system, but also in connection with broad environmental issues, and equally important, human development goals; about two billion human beings on this planet lack access to improved sanitation, something I find unacceptable in the extreme. Understanding sewage - in many ways one of the worst waste problems in the world - only dangerous fossil fuel waste and biomass combustion waste is responsible for more unnecessary deaths - is extremely important to address the rising fresh water crisis, the collapse of ecosystems in the oceans, and, more subtly, addressing an issue that is going to hit future generations very, very, very hard as a result of our inattention, phosphorous flows.

The extremely advanced development of what has become late in life, my absolute favorite analytical chemistry technique, mass spectrometry, has allowed us to understand things about sewage we never could access previously, in particular the environmental fate of many different kinds of products, not only "personal care products" like soap and cosmetics and pharmaceutical metabolites and unmetabolized excreted pharmaceuticals, collectively abbreviated "PPCP" in the literature, but also the fate of things like paints, flame retardants, fire fighting foams, fabric protection agents...the list goes on and on.

And now the study of sewage is providing insight, using qPCR, the spread of Covid.

Some excerpts from the news item cited at the outset of this brief post:

From the subarctic community of Yellowknife, Canada, to the subtropical city of Brisbane, Australia, scientists in more than 50 nations are now monitoring the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in sewage. The number of sewage-surveillance programmes tracking COVID-19 has exploded during the past year from a dozen or so research projects to more than 200, following the discovery that whole virus particles and viral fragments are shed in faeces.

The information garnered is helping scientists to track down cases, predict surges, identify where to target testing, and estimate overall numbers of infected people in cities or regions. Although sewage surveillance has been used for several decades to identify polio outbreaks and target immunization programmes, and, more recently, to detect illicit drug use, the pandemic has brought new focus and investment in it as a means of tracking public health.

“There was always an interest in wastewater epidemiology, but now it’s taken flight,” says Ana Maria de Roda Husman, an infectious-diseases researcher at the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in Bilthoven.

Since early 2020, SARS-CoV-2 sewage projects have taken off around the world as wastewater experts pivoted to concentrate on the crisis. But the scale and focus of surveillance programmes varies, depending on how severely countries or communities have been hit by the pandemic.

The number of ways sewage surveillance is being used is dizzying. In the United Arab Emirates, researchers have been testing sewage from commercial aircraft to see whether incoming flights were carrying infected passengers1. Scientists in Hong Kong are monitoring sewage in apartment buildings to find undetected infections, and, in Yellowknife, health officials are testing wastewater to discover which viral variants have made it to their city, just 400 kilometres from the Arctic Circle.

Early-warning system
One common application of such surveillance programmes is as an early-warning system. People who are infected start shedding virus fragments a few days before they show symptoms, and de Roda Husman uses this to predict hospitalization numbers a few days ahead of time.

Other groups are using wastewater to find and suppress outbreaks on a much smaller scale...

...Challenges for developing countries

However, more than 70% of sewage-surveillance programmes are in high-income countries2, which have poured resources into wastewater epidemiology. Many researchers in the developing world are struggling.

“Testing in India is incredibly challenging as sewage systems are fragmented,” says Sudipti Arora, an environmental scientist at the Dr. B. Lal Institute of Biotechnology in Jaipur, India. Only about one-third of all towns have sewer networks, she says. “Consequently, slums and rural areas remain largely untested...”

...Many scientists working in the field say that a rare positive outcome of the pandemic might be that it will normalize the use of wastewater to monitor public health — whether for future pandemics or to track other health indicators, such as hormones that indicate stress or levels of caffeine consumption.

“Wastewater epidemiology was under the radar,” says Karthikeyan. “Now, it’s come to the forefront.”

4 replies, 632 views

Reply to this thread

Back to top Alert abuse

Always highlight: 10 newest replies | Replies posted after I mark a forum
Replies to this discussion thread
Arrow 4 replies Author Time Post
Reply The myriad ways sewage surveillance is helping fight COVID around the world (Original post)
NNadir May 12 OP
Laurelin May 12 #1
mopinko May 12 #2
TexasTowelie May 12 #3
NNadir May 12 #4

Response to NNadir (Original post)

Wed May 12, 2021, 04:06 AM

1. The Netherlands

Lists coronavirus particles in sewage water, per 1000,000 people, in their corona dashboard. It gives an idea of trends at least.

Otherwise I think we're doing a pretty awful job lately. Hospitals are full.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to NNadir (Original post)

Wed May 12, 2021, 06:23 AM

2. always thought they should test the water in prisons.

both for diseases and drugs.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to NNadir (Original post)

Wed May 12, 2021, 06:53 AM

3. Alternate headline:

How back end production predicts future hospitalization trends.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to TexasTowelie (Reply #3)

Wed May 12, 2021, 07:39 AM

4. A better headline for sure. N/t

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Reply to this thread