Prevalence of COVID19 in populations through wastewater surveillance

Buckley, Heather | $50,000

British Columbia University of Victoria 2020 NSERC Alliance COVID-19 Grant

We are in a global emergency caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2). Accurately tracking the percentage of the population suffering from COVID19 in regions of Canada and globally has been difficult due to limited testing coupled with different testing criteria in different jurisdictions. A complementary approach to tracking analyzes the virus shed to wastewater by infected people. SARS-CoV-2 can be detected in samples using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) after its genome is reverse transcribed into DNA. The viral load present in wastewater samples can then be related to the extent of infection in the region served by the wastewater system.

We will detect the levels and sequence SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA present in wastewater samples taken from different locations in BC. The first focus is Vancouver Island locations to iterate protocols and build scalable procedures and data tools to produce time-series datasets useful to public health agencies and scientific inquiry. The second phase will expand to other labs and wastewater locations in BC; additional data management tools will be developed for uniform reporting from the expanded network. A third phase will integrate the virus data with other data sources in a software platform that will provide continually updated time-series data to public health agencies. The key scientific question is whether there exists significant correlation between wastewater virus levels and clinical cases in the same regional populations. In addition to assisting public health agencies in responding to the current outbreak through targeted testing or other health system responses, the network will provide data to investigate other scientific unknowns – viral strains present in the population, seasonal variations, effects of water treatment technologies on viral load in effluent.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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