Quantifying relationship of SARS-CoV-2 wastewater concentrations, building-level COVID-19 prevalence

Quantifying the relationship between SARS-CoV-2 wastewater concentrations and building-level COVID-19 prevalence at an isolation residence using a passive sampling approach

medRxiv, April 2022

ABSTRACT: SARS-CoV-2 RNA can be detected in the excreta of individuals with COVID-19 and has demonstrated a positive correlation with various clinical parameters. Consequently, wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) approaches have been implemented globally as a public health surveillance tool to monitor the community-level prevalence of infections. Over 270 higher education campuses monitor wastewater for SARS-CoV-2, with most gathering either composite samples via automatic samplers (autosamplers) or grab samples. However, autosamplers are expensive and challenging to manage with seasonal variability, while grab samples are particularly susceptible to temporal variation when sampling sewage directly from complex matrices outside residential buildings. Prior studies have demonstrated encouraging results utilizing passive sampling swabs. Such methods can offer affordable, practical, and scalable alternatives to traditional methods while maintaining a reproducible SARS-CoV-2 signal. In this regard, we deployed tampons as passive samplers outside of a COVID-19 isolation unit (a segregated residence hall) at a university campus from February 1, 2021 – May 21, 2021. Samples were collected several times weekly and remained within the sewer for a minimum of 24 hours (n = 64). SARS-CoV-2 RNA was quantified using reverse transcription-quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) targeting the viral N1 and N2 gene fragments. We quantified the mean viral load captured per individual and the association between the daily viral load and total persons, adjusting for covariates using multivariable models to provide a baseline estimate of viral shedding. Samples were processed through two distinct laboratory pipelines on campus, yielding highly correlated N2 concentrations. Data obtained here highlight the success of passive sampling utilizing tampons to capture SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater coming from a COVID-19 isolation residence, indicating that this method can help inform public health responses in a range of settings.


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