Thursday, May 7, 2020

Wastewater Treatment Facilities as Early Warming Sentinels for Coronavirus


New studies show that SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, is shed in human feces and is collecting in our city sewers.  If the pandemic continues in waves as the latest estimates believe, wastewater treatment plants could provide early warnings to prevent ICUs and hospitals from being swarmed.

It needs to be mentioned that experts believe, based on previous coronavirus research, that SARS-COVID-2 is effectively removed through traditional water treatment processes. The focus on these public health surveillance efforts track virus levels before treatment.

Environmental microbiologists have studied pathogens in sewage for decades. In 1989, Israel set up a Polio virus sewage surveillance system. The use of sewage pathogen monitoring in wastewater treatment facilities as a public health surveillance tool, however, is a fairly new area of study. 

Biobot, Somerville, MA company who specializes in wastewater epidemiology, is establishing protocols to test sewage for SARS-CoV-2. If successful, this data will give communities a dynamic map of the virus as it spreads to new places.

Data from sewage will enable communities to:
  1. Measure the scope of the outbreak independent from patient testing or hospital reporting, and include data on asymptomatic individuals,
  2. Provide decision support for officials determining the timing and severity of public health interventions to mitigate the overall spread of the disease,
  3. Better anticipate likely impact on hospital capacity in order to inform hospital readiness and the necessity of public health interventions,
  4. Track the effectiveness of interventions and measure the wind-down period of the outbreak, and
  5. Provide an early warning for reemergence of the coronavirus (if it does indeed have a seasonal cycle).
To learn more about their program, visit the Biobot website.

Other useful links about the effort to use wastewater for SARS-CoV-2 tracking: