Sensing wastewater to detect coronavirus

wastewater
The detection of biomarkers in feces and urine in wastewater may give a clue to the presence of coronavirus in communities infected with the virus, said researchers at Cranfield University in the U.K. (Pixabay)

The detection of biomarkers in feces and urine in wastewater may give a clue to the presence of coronavirus in communities infected with the virus, said researchers at Cranfield University in the U.K., in an article appearing on Cranfield University’s website.

The researchers believe the wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) approach could provide an effective and rapid way to predict the potential spread of COVID-19 by picking up on the biomarkers in feces and urine from disease carriers that enter the sewer system.

To accomplish this, rapid testing kits using paper-based devices could be used on-site at wastewater treatment plants to trace sources and determine whether there are potential COVID-19 carriers in local areas.

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Dr Zhugen Yang, Lecturer in Sensor Technology at Cranfield Water Science Institute, said in the article: “If COVID-19 can be monitored in a community at an early stage through WBE, effective intervention can be taken as early as possible to restrict the movements of that local population, working to minimise the pathogen spread and threat to public health.”

Recent studies have shown that live SARS-CoV-2 can be isolated from the feces and urine of infected people and the virus can typically survive for up to several days in an appropriate environment after exiting the human body. 

The paper device is folded and unfolded in steps to filter the nucleic acids of pathogens from wastewater samples, then a biochemical reaction with preloaded reagents detects whether the nucleic acid of SARS-CoV-2 infection is present. A green circle indicates positive and a blue circle negative.

“We have already developed a paper device for testing genetic material in wastewater for proof-of-concept, and this provides clear potential to test for infection with adaption,” added Dr Yang. “This device is cheap and will be easy to use for non-experts after further improvement. 

“We foresee that the device will be able to offer a complete and immediate picture of population health once this sensor can be deployed in the near future.”

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