Monitoring Population-Level Disease Prevalence Through Monitoring of SARS-Cov2 Shedding Into Wastewater

technician sampling water in stream or lake

Coronaviruses infect cells of the intestine. Previous studies of coronavirus epidemics (SARS and MERS) showed that infected patients shed viral particles in stools for as long as 30 days after the onset of clinical symptoms. In this current pandemic, the CDC has reported that 26.7% of patients are experiencing diarrhea. Coincidentally, recent studies in the Netherlands and Massachusetts have begun to monitor COVID-19 in wastewater. In the Netherlands, they noted an increase in viral particles since February 2020.

As rates of infection in the United States continue to increase, it is essential to have accurate measures of the effectiveness of treatment and mitigation strategies at the community level. However, sampling and testing large numbers of individuals is impractical, depletes testing resources, and burdens frontline medical staff with further potential exposure. Continuous monitoring of SARS-CoV2 viral particle levels in wastewater will provide an unbiased assessment of population-level disease prevalence.

Led by Glenn Simmons Jr, PhD, and Richard Melvin, PhD, Department of Biomedical Sciences, researchers in this study collaborate with wastewater treatment facilities across the state to conduct a longitudinal study of the level of SARS-CoV2 virus and assess the relationships between the reported number of infections and the level of viral particles detected in wastewater.

“By monitoring viral shedding into untreated wastewater in various communities around the state of Minnesota, we will be able to approximate the level of ongoing infections,” said Simmons and Melvin.

Results are expected to provide community-level information on effectiveness of disease mitigation and ongoing risk to front-line healthcare workers and community-at-large. The results will also provide additional information for mitigation policy makers.

This project is supported by the UMN Campus Public Health Officer's CO:VID (Collaborative Outcomes: Visionary Innovation & Discovery) grants program, which support University of Minnesota faculty to catalyze and energize small-scale research projects designed to address and mitigate the COVID-19 virus and its associated risks.