Presence of SARS-Coronavirus-2 in sewage

Authors: Gertjan Medema and colleagues at KWR in The Netherlands

In a non peer reviewed preprint (preprint pdf) report on their use of rt-PCR to detect RNA from SARS-COV-2 at multiple locations.  Their sampling started in February, before COVID19 cases were detected in The Netherlands, and extended when cases were detected at all sites.

The February samples were negative at all sewage sites examined (incoming wastewater at treatment plants).  In early March, 5 of 7 sites were positive (while only 4 of 7 of the corresponding cities had reported positive COVID cases).  By their March 15/16 samples, 6 of 7 sites were positive for RNA from SARS-COV-2.

While no inference about the presence of viable virus can be made from the data, the authors conclude “The detection of the virus in sewage, even when the COVID- 19 prevalence is low, indicates that sewage surveillance could be used to monitor the circulation of the virus in the population and as early warning tool for increased circulation in the coming winter or unaffected populations.”

I agree.

4 thoughts on “Presence of SARS-Coronavirus-2 in sewage

  1. Chuck, Do you have any comments you’d be willing to share on the value of sewage surveillance v. clinical testing? It seems like there is currently a scarcity in regards to reagents, consumables. etc. So I’d be curious to know your thoughts. Obviously, the clinical testing makes a big impact for an individual; whereas, the sewer surveillance makes an impact from public health and management perspective. Any thoughts on how to approach that tradeoff?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I know, in addition to the KWR group, that Alexandra Bohem and Krista Wigginton have funds to do sewage testing, and Chuck Gerba is starting to do testing in Arizona. The Arizona testing in particular should be interesting since cases are starting to ramp up. Particularly with the number of asymptomatic individuals, and also the number of mild cases that probably do not get reported, this could be a very good complement to clinical tests. There also needs to be some work to see if viability PCR is valuable (my read of the literature is that it is a mixed bag for RNA viruses), but this would undoubtedly require at least a BSL3 facility.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Chuck Gerba shared a brief summary of his work on our call last Friday. It is increasingly apparent that there are a number of groups that are working in parallel on this research. I continue to hope that we might be able to coordinate efforts to accelerate progress on this important work

    Liked by 1 person

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