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How Wastewater Monitoring Works: Your Questions Answered

October 5, 2022

A person with an active SARS-CoV-2 infection (the virus that causes the Covid-19 illness) sheds traces of the virus in their stool, even when they are not exhibiting any symptoms. With advanced wastewater monitoring technology, we can detect the presence of the Covid-19-causing virus in a sample of wastewater from a particular area. Early detection is critical because it allows public health officials, business owners, and community leaders to act quickly to implement mitigation strategies. 

How Does Wastewater Monitoring Work?

Here are the basic steps involved in the wastewater monitoring process:

  • Wastewater samples are collected from a single building’s sewage system or from a sewershed as it flows into wastewater treatment plants. (A sewershed is defined as a community served by a dedicated wastewater collection system).
  • The collected wastewater samples are sent to a lab equipped to test the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater (such as Biobot Analytics).
  • The data is analyzed with a quick turnaround time of 1-3 business days, and the results are reported back to the authorized personnel.
  • Using the analysis from the wastewater monitoring, business owners, community leaders, and health officials can make informed decisions about opening facilities and services, take action to contain new outbreaks, and get an overview of the virus spread and other trends.
Can SARS-CoV-2 Found in the Wastewater Spread the Infection?

To date, there is no evidence that the Covid-19 illness-causing virus SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted to an individual through wastewater or water in rivers, lakes, and natural water bodies, with or without wastewater treatment.

Is It Possible to Detect Covid-19 Hotspots with Wastewater Monitoring?

Yes, within a sewershed, it’s possible to detect Covid-19 hotspots through wastewater monitoring. This is primarily done by performing lab tests upstream from the wastewater treatment plant (testing sub-sewersheds) within a particular sewershed.

Can Monitoring Wastewater Data Be Used Along With Other Forms of Covid-19 Monitoring?

Yes, wastewater testing for Covid-19 is designed to complement other forms of SARS-CoV-2 monitoring systems in the following ways:

  • It provides public health officials with efficient data representing the whole community.
  • It provides data for communities that do not have access to timely clinical testing for Covid-19 or where testing is underutilized or delayed.
  • It provides continuous data from various communities across the country for more effective disease control.

In fact, wastewater monitoring data becomes even more useful when it is analyzed in conjunction with other data. For instance, wastewater data that indicates a percentage change in virus levels may be evaluated along with the historical wastewater data in the particular location, overall virus levels found in wastewater, number of clinical cases detected in the location, and geographical context, such as neighboring communities with a rising number of cases or a high influx of tourists in the area.

Can Wastewater Monitoring Increase Early Preventive Action?

Yes, wastewater monitoring can serve as an effective early warning system because it is capable of detecting asymptomatic infections not captured by clinical data. Due to the availability of at-home tests which do not get reported, clinical testing data has become less dependable and public health officials are forced to rely on lagging indicators of viral spread, such as hospitalizations and deaths. 

However, with wastewater monitoring, testing doesn’t need to wait for individuals to become symptomatic or seek medical care. Public health officials can detect and mitigate outbreaks before they spread. Furthermore, reliable data trends can be determined over a period of time to make informed decisions about future public health directives.

How Is Biobot Analytics Helping in the Mission to Fight the Risk of Infectious Diseases?

The immense potential that wastewater epidemiology holds in the fight against infectious diseases inspired Biobot Analytics to become the world’s first company to bring this impactful technology to the marketplace. Headquartered in Boston, the Biobot team, led by its founders (a biologist and an urban studies researcher), has leveraged the power of interdisciplinary collaboration right from the start.

Biobot Analytics has been making an impact throughout the United States, having worked with more than 1,000 locations across all 50 US states, and is also working with health departments and other agencies to extend its innovative wastewater epidemiology platform worldwide. Interested in getting started as a customer? Complete this online contact form and one of our experts will reach out to you shortly.