Presenters: Prof Jochen Mueller (UQ Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences)
  Dr Warish Ahmed (CSIRO)
  Janette Edson (UQ Australian Centre for Ecogenomics)
  Dr Aaron Bivins (University of Notre Dame)

Jochen, Warish and Janette will present a recently published proof of concept study, as part of a new collaboration between UQ and CSIRO, to detect SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater. It is hoped that this research will bring together a national collaboration of government authorities, wastewater utilities, universities, research organisations and commercial laboratories to deliver an Australia-wide surveillance program.

Infection with SARS-CoV-2, the etiologic agent of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, is accompanied by the shedding of RNA from the virus in stool. Therefore, the quantification of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater affords the ability to monitor the prevalence of infections amongst the population via wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE). In the current work, SARS-CoV-2 RNA was concentrated from wastewater in a catchment in Australia and viral RNA copies were enumerated using reverse transcriptase quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) resulting in two positive detections within a six day period from the same wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). The estimated RNA copy numbers observed in the wastewater were then used to estimate the number of infected individuals in the catchment via Monte Carlo simulation. Given the uncertainty and variation in the input parameters, the model estimated a median range of 171 to 1,090 infected persons in the catchment, which is in reasonable agreement with clinical observations. This work highlights the viability of WBE for monitoring infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, in communities. The work also draws attention to the need for further methodological and molecular assay validation for enveloped viruses in wastewater.

Presentation slides available here.

Presentation video stream or download here