Evaluation of an affinity capture method and microfluidic digital PCR as a rapid approach to quantify SARS-CoV-2, mpox virus, and fecal indicator, pepper mild mottle virus (PMMoV) in wastewater during a mass-gathering event
Abstract: Wastewater surveillance has emerged recently as a powerful approach to understanding infectious disease dynamics in densely populated zones. Wastewater surveillance, while promising as a public health tool, is often hampered by slow turn-around times, complex analytical protocols, and resource-intensive techniques. In this study, we evaluated an affinity capture method and microfluidic digital PCR as a rapid approach to quantify severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), mpox (formerly known as monkeypox) virus, and fecal indicator, pepper mild mottle virus (PMMoV) in wastewater during a mass-gathering event. Wastewater samples (n = 131) were collected from residential and commercial manholes, pump stations, and a city's wastewater treatment plant. The use of Nanotrap® Microbiome Particles and microfluidic digital PCR produced comparable results to other established methodologies, with reduced process complexity and analytical times, providing same day results for public health preparedness and response. Using indigenous SARS-CoV-2 and PMMoV in wastewater, the average viral recovery efficiency was estimated at 10.1 %. Both SARS-CoV-2 N1 and N2 genes were consistently detected throughout the sampling period, with increased RNA concentrations mainly in wastewater samples collected from commercial area after festival mass gatherings. The mpox virus was sporadically detected in wastewater samples during the surveillance period, without distinct temporal trends. SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations in the city's wastewater mirrored the city's COVID-19 cases, confirming the predictive properties of wastewater surveillance. Wastewater surveillance continues to be beneficial for tracking diseases that display gastrointestinal symptoms, including SARS-CoV-2, and can be a powerful tool for sentinel surveillance. However, careful site selection and a thorough understanding of community dynamics are necessary when performing targeted surveillance during temporary mass-gathering events as potential confirmation bias may occur.