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Diagnostics Analytical science, Screening and monitoring, Technology and innovation

Wastewater-Based Epidemiology for SARS-CoV-2

Population testing for COVID-19 can be costly and logistically difficult – but it is also crucial to understanding the spread of the disease. To use diagnostic resources more efficiently, the industry has turned to innovative methods – such as wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) – to understand where infections are occurring even before symptoms appear.

WBE involves pinpointing areas where SARS-CoV-2 is heavily prevalent by measuring viral RNA shed into wastewater through the feces of infected individuals. Epidemiologists use methods such as RT-PCR or ddPCR to test wastewater samples for the presence of viral RNA – but, because samples are diluted, methods must be highly sensitive. A recent case study showed that ddPCR could detect SARS-CoV-2 RNA between levels of 101 to 104 copies/100 mL (1). New approaches like WBE could help us conserve diagnostic resources, improve public health measures, and better understand COVID-19.

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  1. R Gonzalez et al., Water Res, 186, 116296 (2020). PMID: 32841929.
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