Can biofilm facilitate COVID‑19 virus survival and persistence in sewer system?

Yu, Tong | $50,000

Alberta University of Alberta 2020 NSERC Alliance COVID-19 Grant

COVID‑19 virus is new to our society. We have still a lot to learn about it. Our fight with COVID‑19 pandemic is multifaceted. It requires not only doctors and medical researchers to develop vaccines and medicines saving lives, but also engineers and public health researchers to secure urban infrastructure preventing the spread of COVID‑19 in the communities. Since March 2020, an important area of urban infrastructure – wastewater and sewage collection systems – has been elevated to national importance in our fight with COVID-19, and it has now become a worldwide phenomenon.

It started with the detection of COVID‑19 virus RNA in COVID‑19 patient’s feces. Then, researchers in the Netherlands, Australia, United States, and Canada started to use the RNA data in wastewater to construct a more complete picture on the spread of the virus in cities and communities, including hotspots such as hospitals and senior care facilities. It is called wastewater-based epidemiology. Recent reports from Turkey and China have shown that COVID‑19 patient’s secretions (e.g. feces and urine) contain viable infective COVID‑19 virus, suggesting some infectious particles may potentially enter and persist in sewer collection system and reach wastewater treatment plant. While the current focus is all on wastewater, we have missed the other important component of the sewer system – biofilm. It is time to ask the question, “Can biofilm facilitate the survival and persistence of COVID‑19 virus in sewer system?” This is an important question not only locally, but also nationally and internationally.

In Alberta, we have assembled a team of high caliber researchers from academia, industry and government to tackle this problem, using the most advanced technologies and combined expertise. The expected outcomes of this proposed study will provide crucial and missing data to inform Alberta Government and the utility company regarding appropriate measures to protect wastewater/sewer workers in proximity to hotspots and residents in the communities. The research results will also have national and international importance.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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