Non-intrusive wastewater surveillance for monitoring of a residential building for COVID-19 cases

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Sci Total Environ. 2021 Apr 29;786:147419. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.147419. Online ahead of print.


Wastewater-based surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 has been used for the early warning of transmission or objective trending of the population-level disease prevalence. Here, we describe a new use-case of conducting targeted wastewater surveillance to complement clinical testing for case identification in a small community at risk of COVID-19 transmission. On 2 July 2020, a cluster of COVID-19 cases in two unrelated households residing on different floors in the same stack of an apartment building was reported in Singapore. After cases were conveyed to healthcare facilities and six healthy household contacts were quarantined in their respective apartments, wastewater surveillance was implemented for the entire residential block. SARS-CoV-2 was subsequently detected in wastewaters in an increasing frequency and concentration, despite the absence of confirmed COVID-19 cases, suggesting the presence of fresh case/s in the building. Phone interviews of six residents in quarantine revealed that no one was symptomatic (fever/respiratory illness). However, when nasopharyngeal swabs from six quarantined residents were tested by PCR tests, one was positive for SARS-CoV-2. The positive case reported episodes of diarrhea and the case’s stool sample was also positive for SARS-CoV-2, explaining the SARS-CoV-2 spikes observed in wastewaters. After the case was conveyed to a healthcare facility, wastewaters continued to yield positive signals for five days, though with a decreasing intensity. This was attributed to the return of recovered cases, who had continued to shed the virus. Our findings demonstrate the utility of wastewater surveillance as a non-intrusive tool to monitor high-risk COVID-19 premises, which is able to trigger individual tests for case detection, highlighting a new use-case for wastewater testing.

PMID:33964781 | DOI:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.147419