Newswise – MILWAUKEE _ Because the virus that causes COVID-19 – SARS-CoV-2 – can be found in sewage, the concentration of the virus in sewage gives public health officials the ability to monitor a community whole at once, regardless of testing.
But monitoring wastewater during a pandemic is complex, requiring technical expertise and rapid interpretation of sample results so that public health officials can act on it.
A new study examines building the necessary communications network and investing the resources necessary to support wastewater monitoring systems during a public health emergency. The work was carried out by a team of academic researchers, public health practitioners, and state and local environmental health agencies who were implementing wastewater monitoring programs in their jurisdictions as part of their COVID-response. 19.
They wanted to detail the process so that wastewater surveillance could be established nationwide to help with future pandemics or to track other health issues, such as the extent of antibiotic resistance present in communities. .
“Knowledge transfer and co-development between academic labs and public health agencies is really an important part of understanding what the results mean,” said Sandra McLellan, professor of freshwater sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and principal investigator of the project. âSo the problem now is there’s a lack of relationships. “
The article was published July 15 online in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The use of wastewater samples in public health surveillance has never been done, McLellan said. Therefore, researchers across the country should partner with local health and sanitation agencies to exchange questions and share experiences if a national program is to be successful.
The researchers also found that an investment needs to be made in organizational leadership and staff resources to support wastewater monitoring systems.
âDeveloping one-on-one relationships takes time and skill,â said McLellan, âso people need to be integrated into real projects. “
With McLellan, Dominique Brossard, team member, professor of communication in life sciences at UW-Madison, brought together a national panel of experts from academia, public sanitation and health services .
âLike any potential technology, it’s important to be aware of the ethical, social, and legal implications, as well as talking to potentially important stakeholders in the community, such as business leaders,â Brossard said. âIf a public health service is to use this, it needs to make sure it communicates accurately with its audience. ”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is already developing the infrastructure for a national effort. Through the CDC’s National Wastewater Monitoring System portal, health departments can submit wastewater and associated metadata and receive real-time results to help them with their COVID-19 response. As of June 2021, public health departments in 31 states, two U.S. territories, and three municipalities have used CDC funds to support wastewater monitoring activities.
McLellan provided technical expertise to CDC for its surveillance system.
In Wisconsin, the Department of Health Services and the State Laboratory of Hygiene have partnered with UW-Milwaukee to launch SARS-CoV-2 tests at 70 municipal wastewater treatment plants in the summer of 2020. The data they generated were made available to the public on a dashboard. since December 2020.
Local health departments used the data to confirm health trends identified through clinical testing and see how they matched up with clinical cases, hospitalizations and vaccination rates.
During the current phase of the pandemic, wastewater monitoring could also identify emerging variants circulating in the community.
The research was funded by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.