Wastewater monitoring for the COVID-19 virus has proven to be an effective way of forecasting and understanding coronavirus trends in the community, according to researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno who’ve been studying it since April 2020.
The project, they said, lays the groundwork for future coordination with local authorities to more quickly respond to future pandemic threats.
“Monitoring human pathogens, viruses and bacteria through wastewater provides a unique opportunity to look at pathogens circulating in the community,” said Subhash Verma, associate professor at UNR’s School of Medicine. “Along with monitoring SARS-CoV-2 and its variants, we are set up to monitor other respiratory viruses including, Influenza Virus, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and Adenoviruses, which causes flu like symptoms.”
The wastewater-based epidemiology has helped the research team to stay one step ahead of community spread of the COVID-19 and better understand what variants are circulating in the community—“months before they were identified from clinical monitoring,” researchers said.
For example, they’re predicting the Truckee Meadows Risk Meter will inch down this week from its “Very High” rating. The level of Delta variant in the community has been trending down since September, they added.
“It’s predictive for seven days ahead, telling us the trend in new positive cases we’ll see in the community in that timeframe,” said Krishna Pagilla, an environmental engineering professor at the University and leader of the study. “It’s predictive because people don’t get tested until they have symptoms, but our marker concentrations are real time – as soon as the virus is discharged into the wastewater.”
The study was originally funded through CARES Act dollars provided by Reno, Sparks and Washoe County governments. Sparks continued the support with a $1.51 million grant using American Rescue Plan Act funds, which will allow researchers to continue the work through December 2022.
Not all of those funds will be used for lab work. One of the goals of the project will be to create a process for using data collected from the wastewater epidemiology to support public health planning, reporting and response.