Early warning for COVID-19 outbreaks through wastewater monitoring

Taking an innovative approach to using data to predict public health trends, monitoring wastewater (sewage) has recently been used as part of an advance warning system to detect new outbreaks of COVID-19.

Research shows that fragments of genetic material from the virus can be found in wastewater. Those fragments can be used to detect the presence of COVID-19 in a population. This ncludes when people are asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic, so not yet aware of their infection or in contact with the testing system.

Dr Andrew Engeli, innovation lead at the Joint Biosecurity Centre

“A programme led by the Joint Biosecurity Centre (part of NHS Test and Trace), alongside Defra and the Environment Agency, is enabling local authorities and health professionals to take targeted local action early.

“Our team works closely with directors of public health and local authorities to understand the landscape, mapping wastewater data to local physical and social geography to provide unique insight.

“Continued monitoring is part of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown as scientists isolate areas of virus growth. They then report that data to NHS Test and Trace, who design strategies around it.

“Wastewater testing also has the potential to provide insights into wider and emerging public health trends, so we’re delighted to have been able to put this to good use during the pandemic.”