Using Wastewater Surveillance to Monitor COVID-19

November 2020- Hana Muhaisen, a lab Technician at Water Authority of Jordan Labs, is processing a sample into the Refrigerated Centrifuge equipment which was supplied by USAID. Photo credit: USAID Jordan Water Infrastructure Activity
Summary

As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, many national and local governments are turning to a surprising source of data to track the latest surge of the virus: pathogens in the wastewater in their sewage systems.

This approach has long been used to help monitor the spread of diseases such as polio and typhoid, notes Joe Brown, an associate professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and principal investigator of the Maputo Sanitation (MapSan) trial.

“For about 100 years, we’ve been looking for pathogens in wastewater as a way of informing public health response,” he says. “And the data can complement clinical data in a variety of ways — for example, to generate data on infections that are primarily asymptomatic and therefore may be underestimated in other health surveillance.”

COVID-19 often goes undetected because it leads to mild or no symptoms in many people, and thus can spread quickly. The rise of the highly contagious Omicron variant has swamped testing resources in countries throughout the world, widening the gap between reported and actual cases. Read the full article to learn more. 

By the Global Waters Communication and Knowledge Management Activity supported by USAID’s RFS Center for Water Security, Sanitation, and Hygiene