10/20/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 10/18/2021 18:02
The COVID-19 pandemic is the most significant world health event in the past 100 years, and public health officials need data about infection prevalence, infection rates, and vaccine distribution. A rapid and reliable system of virus tracking for both current and future outbreaks would help public health officials monitor and contain the spread of the virus.
Tracking COVID-19 in wastewater streams
Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) can assess exposure, disease and human behavior using biomarkers excreted in urine and feces complementary to clinical testing. On Wednesday, Oct. 20, Jacobs Global Water Director Susan Moisio will join Jacobs Director of Health Systems Governance Nino Kharaishvili to discuss Jacobs' experience with using WBE testing to monitor disease exposure and prevalence.
Based on the paper "Wastewater-Based Epidemiology Early Warning Systems and Public Health" by Natalia Hogsten, Tim Constantine, Susan Moisio, Nino Kharaishvili and Katie Bollmer, the presentation will detail Jacobs' efforts to create a rapid and reliable method of tracking the COVID-19 virus in wastewater and challenges and opportunities with this approach.
Wastewater sampling started in 2020
In March of 2020, Jacobs began talking with our clients about WBE sampling. In April of 2020, Jacobs began collecting samples at over 40 wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) nationwide. The presentation will detail how these samples were collected and stored in the laboratories, as well as how the virus was captured in the wastewater filtration stream. The presentation will also address and answer questions such as what was learned from the sampling at the WWTPs? What part of the genetic material survives travel in the sewershed? And, is there a need to move WBE from the treatment plant into the collection system to actively assess community health? Results from sample analysis
Since the study began, our teams have collected and analyzed more than 100 samples at WWTPs and in collection systems around the country. Initial sample collection and data analysis have allowed the team to identify several challenges in applying WBE for disease-tracking purposes. Jacobs' specialists dealt with some of these challenges by developing clear sampling guidelines, changing shipping practices and using specific methods of sample concentration and detection. Other challenges are being investigated, including relating virus concentrations to public health data, understanding the effect of water quality and sample location on biomarkers, and connecting the WBE data to the right decision-makers to enable rapid responses to indicators of an outbreak.
Challenges and opportunities with wastewater epidemiology approach
Through the work performed to date, Jacobs has identified the following challenges in using the WBE approach:
Developing an early warning system for future outbreaks
The goal of this project is to provide actionable information to government decision-makers on the trend of the virus in their communities by developing early warning systems, rapidly identifying hotspots, and ultimately monitoring improvement in public health.
Jacobs' teams envision developing an early warning system for the virus similar in methodology as the Water Quality Surveillance and Response System (SRS)that we piloted in conjunction with the EPA's Water Security Initiative. The SRS brought together multiple streaming data feeds, real time analytics, health and epidemiological data feeds and a geospatial dashboard to provide utilities the capability to quickly detect and respond to water quality issues. Jacobs envisions the ultimate application of WBE analysis through the development of a similar early-warning system for SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 and other biological threats within a community.
For more on Jacobs' participation at WEFTEC 2021, click here.