Detecting SARS-COV-2 in wastewater An Early Warning Signal for Covid-19

10 Feb 2021
Dr Paromita Chakraborty
Ms Avanti Roy Basu
Dr Girija K Bharat

The Policy Brief is a result of the research study titled ‘Monitoring of Community wastewater for early signaling the spread of COVID-19’, supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) jointly undertaken by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), SRM Institute of Science & Technology (SRMIST), & Mu Gamma Consultants Pvt Ltd (MGC). Intensive wastewater surveillance carried out to detect the presence and load of SARS-CoV-2 virus, in Chennai city, India under the above study highlights the advantages of wastewater surveillance especially in the developing country context as an early warning system through the detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in human faeces even before symptoms appear and in asymptomatic cases. The study results confirm the critical role of wastewater surveillance in capturing mass data on the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infection in a given catchment and supplements clinical diagnosis. The indicative depiction of the severity of infection through wastewater surveillance in each catchment area can be immensely useful for the identification of zones requiring immediate attention for combatting the spread of the pandemic. The Policy Brief discusses the relevance of the study and suggests recommendations and a way forward. It suggests the establishment of a reliable SARS-CoV-2 wastewater monitoring system to indicate and show a roadmap for tracking disease, intensifying testing, re-introducing public orders related to social distancing or quarantines, and even lifting restrictions once a cessation of infection is confirmed. Highlighting the success of monitoring and surveillance of poliovirus transmission through wastewater, the lessons learnt from the same as well as the use of already existing wastewater monitoring network to support for SARS-CoV-2 surveillance is recommended. The Policy Brief also indicates the vast potential of wastewater surveillance while indicating the requirement for further research on biological, epidemiologic, technical, economic, and other aspects of SARS-CoV-2 wastewater monitoring to enable enhanced recommendations on wastewater surveillance to inform public health decisions.