Sewage wastewater focal point of understanding the coronavirus pandemic
As Sweden enters its Coronavirus critical phase, sewage wastewater becomes a focal point of understanding SARS-CoV-2.
The country’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell warned the Swedish public that a new intensive phase of the Coronavirus outbreak is headed their way. Testing Sweden’s wastewater for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 now plays a major part in the effort to better understand the virus’ reach among the general public.
Sewage water can reveal what testing cannot, that is, the real scale of the virus and how many people it might have actually affected.
This kind of testing could also serve as a future early sign of a second coronavirus wave, according to Swedish scientists.
It takes only 3 days for the novel coronavirus to appear in human faeces. This poses a major scientific discovery because in the understanding of the disease as it means that the virus can be detected much sooner; especially if people wait to display symptoms of COVID-19, which can take up to two weeks.
Monitoring wastewater could give officials a much needed head start, allowing them to take measures on time and avoid a larger outbreak.
Although this type of early warning cannot pinpoint the exact person who’s having coronavirus in their system, it can alert the authorities about the virus’ arrival in a given community and allow for an immediate lockdown of these affected areas.
Coronavirus outbreak poses unprecedented environmental safety hazard
As the country entered an intensive phase, the Swedish government plans to introduce tax breaks for small companies and bring stranded Swedes home.
Testing wastewater for coronavirus is not a Swedish invention. In fact, many research groups around the world began testing wastewater for SARS-CoV-2 in a bid to place a reliable estimate on the overall number of infected people in a particular community, as many of the people there would not be tested.
Until now, research groups have found such wastewater tracer in the US and the Netherlands.
Despite the widespread shut-downs
Another major obstacle for doing such research is the limited number of reagent to conduct such testes as well as the global shut-downs of laboratories and universities that could carry such an ambitious task. Research groups are already experiencing shortages due to the economic strain while governments are in a race to come up with a working vaccine to end it all.
Cetecioglu Gurol, Associate Professor at the Division of Resource Recovery organization, and whose research focuses on recovering biochemical resources from wastewater, warns that recovering the coronavirus from sewage is much more difficult than expected as wastewater is far more complicated than regular contaminated liquids, adding that “there are a lot of things in it besides the virus.”
Meanwhile in the Netherlands
The dutch authorities aim at reaching the same estimate as their Swedish counterparts, intending to test the wastewater from more than a million of people.
Such wastewater surveillance on a massive scale could account for the people who have not been tested, says microbiologist Gertjan Medema — the chief microbiologist at KWR Water Research Institute in Nieuwegein, the Netherlands.
Detecting the SARS-CoV-2 genetic material is not as easy as it may look
The goal of “diving” head first into wastewater is to prevent the coronavirus infection from spreading covertly again causing a new massive outbreak among the population.
The entire process rests on making accurate RNA extrapolations of the amount of infected people–who would remain under the radar–by determining the scale of the infection from dirty water samples.
The main challenges of doing so is making sure that the samples obtained by mass testing are truly indicative of what is excreted by the population and not just a misleading snapshot.
Wastewater surveillance hence needs to be conducted properly and be feasible in the long run.
Wastewater as the new early warning sign of COVID-19
Wastewater testing can become the new early-warning sign of a second wave, says Ana Maria de Roda Husman, an infectious disease researcher at the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, the Institute has been monitoring the sewage water for the presence of novovirus, poliovirus, measles and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
A coordinated effort between Sweden and China
The Chinese team in charge of the coronavirus force in Beijing looks on the future cooperation between China and Sweden as a mutually beneficial relationship
In 2019, the Chinese IVL kick-started its project to treat pharmaceutical residue in wastewater in a wastewater treatment plant in Sweden.
This type of cooperation would be of extreme importance in the overall effort to handle the coronavirus pandemic in both countries.