Wastewater surveillance to infer COVID-19 transmission: A systematic review


Successful detection of SARS-COV-2 in wastewater suggests the potential utility of wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) for COVID-19 community surveillance. This systematic review aims to assess the performance of wastewater surveillance as early warning system of COVID-19 community transmission. A systematic search was conducted in PubMed, Medline, Embase and the WBE Consortium Registry according to PRISMA guidelines for relevant articles published until 31st July 2021. Relevant data were extracted and summarized. Quality of each paper was assessed using an assessment tool adapted from Bilotta et al.’s tool for environmental science. Of 763 studies identified, 92 studies distributed across 34 countries were shortlisted for qualitative synthesis. A total of 26,197 samples were collected between January 2020 and May 2021 from various locations serving population ranging from 321 to 11,400,000 inhabitants. Overall sample positivity was moderate at 29.2% in all examined settings with the spike (S) gene having maximum rate of positive detections and nucleocapsid (N) gene being the most targeted. Wastewater signals preceded confirmed cases by up to 63 days, with 13 studies reporting sample positivity before the first cases were detected in the community. At least 50 studies reported an association of viral load with community cases. While wastewater surveillance cannot replace large-scale diagnostic testing, it can complement clinical surveillance by providing early signs of potential transmission for more active public health responses. However, more studies using standardized and validated methods are required along with risk analysis and modelling to understand the dynamics of viral outbreaks.

Citation: Shah, S., Gwee, S., Ng, J., Lau, N., Koh, J., & Pang, J. (2022). Wastewater surveillance to infer COVID-19 transmission: A systematic review. The Science of the Total Environment804, 150060. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.150060

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