August 18, 2021
Partnership with Amarel ltd
Epidemiology, smart technology, and the public health
insights we flush down the drain
During a cholera outbreak in 1854, John Snow plotted cases on a map of London, tracing the cause of infection to a sewage-contaminated water pump and proving two things: 1) Cholera is a waterborne disease, and 2) by understanding the networks communities share, we can better understand public health. Modern epidemiology was born.
Today, researchers are turning to the sewers to track the spread of COVID-19 infections, taking samples of raw sewage and testing it for virus RNA shed by those infected.
By monitoring the concentration of viral traces in wastewater, public health officials are able to identify outbreaks and model their severity without needing to test people individually.
While not a direct replacement for individual testing, wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) can play an important role in monitoring long-term public health patterns with minimal inconvenience.
WBE uses the sewer networks and the wastewater we flush away everyday, with no need for specialist testing facilities or extraordinary public engagement.
With COVID-19, infected persons shed virus RNA even before developing outward symptoms. Using WBE, outbreaks can be identified several days earlier than is usually possible with individual testing, but sample timing is crucial to maximising its effectiveness.
There are all sorts of things other than human waste that can impact wastewater’s viral load. Taking samples when faecal loads are highest and other contaminants are predictable is key to getting a sample that reflect a population’s infection profile accurately.
Technologies, such as those provided by wastewater intelligence specialists Kando, exist that automatically draw samples from the sewers when conditions are right, and signal to local authorities that there’s a sample ready to be collected, giving them the best chance of staying one step ahead of the virus’ spread.
With the right technological support, wastewater-based epidemiology can play a vital role in monitoring for and containing viral outbreaks as they happen, helping the world come out of this pandemic and respond effectively
to the next.