A recent review paper from an international research group involving Hokkaido University and Yamanashi University in Japan shows how wastewater can provide a useful tool for monitoring COVID-19 and highlights further research needed to develop this as a feasible method for tracking a virus outbreak. This research was published in Total Environmental Sciences.
The main transmission route of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is through person-to-person inhalation, aerosols or drops, and transmission through hands or contaminated material. However, there is increasing evidence of gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea among COVID-19 patients, and genetic material from the virus has been found not only in patient excrement but also in wastewater.
“The presence of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material in wastewater provides an opportunity to monitor the spread of COVID-19 in a community. Although wastewater is not widely used as a disease control tool, wastewater is starting to gain traction, “said Masaaki Kitajima, an environmental engineer at Hokkaido University.
According to the paper, using wastewater to monitor COVID-19 offers several advantages over other methods, such as clinical testing. It can detect low levels of virus particles and detect viruses when patients are asymptomatic, which means they can provide an early warning system for new outbreaks or awakening in the community. This can be very useful in developing countries where clinical diagnosis and reporting systems may be limited, making it easier to make fair comparisons between countries. Wastewater monitoring can help detect genetic variations between strains that circulate in different regions, enabling scientists to monitor the evolution of the viral genome over time. This can also be used to see whether infection has declined as a result of public health interventions, such as locking, social isolation and social distance.
However, this paper also highlights several challenges for monitoring wastewater. “Despite efforts being made to develop an environmental monitoring program for SARS-CoV-2, there is a gap in our knowledge and further research is needed before we can use wastewater to monitor the COVID-19 outbreak,” Kitajima said.
One of the main challenges is the absence of a standard protocol for monitoring SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater. Detecting viral genetic material in wastewater requires steps of virus concentration to allow extraction and detection, but there is limited knowledge about how to do this efficiently for SARS-CoV-2. To evaluate human health risks, it is also important to know how the virus decays in the aquatic environment – at present, the stability of the SARS-CoV-2 genome in wastewater is largely unknown. In addition, it is still unknown whether aerosols from wastewater can contain viruses and pose a potential health risk for workers in wastewater treatment plants.
“The use of national and international wastewater monitoring campaigns can provide a better understanding of the spread of COVID-19 and help decision-making public health officials, but more research is needed before wastewater monitoring for SARS-CoV-2 can be carried out broadly. used, “the researchers concluded.
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