Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) based on PCR tests has been gaining ground as a method, with a potential that is now only beginning to be recognized. COVID monitoring in sewage treatment plants has played a major role in this development. “Recent experience has shown that wherever PCR has been introduced, it becomes irreplaceable,” explained Dr. Christoph Heddergott, project manager at Analytik Jena.
The complete solution from Analytik Jena requires only a few largely automated steps, from sampling and sample preparation to the final PCR result, and is easily accessible even to non-specialist users. And it provides accurate test results within only three to four hours.
An EU recommendation from March 17, 2021 stipulates that member states should monitor wastewater for SARS-CoV-2 viral loads from large cities with over 150,000 inhabitants. Analytik Jena was a step ahead. A functional and tested workflow that meets the requirements was already made available in November 2020, with Analytik Jena solutions for nucleic acid extraction (SpeedMill PLUS, InnuPure C16 touch) and PCR (qTOWER³) being used in the process.
The method was developed in cooperation with the Emschergenossenschaft/Lippeverband (EGLV) in the Ruhr District, the largest water management association in Germany. The solution is now in use at several universities and in commercial laboratories. Round robin tests have shown that the Analytik Jena solution delivers specific and sensitive results.
Together with its partners, Analytik Jena has been working on unresolved research issues in several different projects. Taking samples from sewage treatment plants is deemed to be difficult. “The influence of factors such as dilution effects and features peculiar to the catchment area of sewage treatment plants must be taken into account in order to reliably map the infection process” explained Prof. Silvio Beier, Professor of Technologies for Urban Material Flow Use at the Bauhaus University of Weimar.
He is the head of the CoMoTH project (Corona Monitoring in Thuringia), which involves 23 sewage treatment plants, covering around 40 percent of the state of Thuringia’s population. Analytik Jena is a participating partner in the project. The goal is to explore the possibilities for comprehensive and permanent wastewater monitoring for SARS-CoV-2 in the state.
“Our solution can be used to detect the spread of other pathogens among the population,” explained Analytik Jena Program Manager Dr. Robert Möller. Early warning and monitoring systems can, for example, be applied to various viruses (hepatitis, polio, noroviruses, and influenza viruses), bacterial pathogens(salmonella, clostridia, legionella), and the spread of antibiotic resistance. In addition to SARS-CoV-2, there is already an applications manual for legionella and one for other relevant markers in wastewater (norovirus and fecal markers).
In general, mass testing at the sewage treatment plants does not require individuals to voluntarily participate, without infringing on personal rights. It features low costs and great benefits in obtaining an early overview of the infection process. “This can be used to build on the critical infrastructure, especially with a view to water recycling, in order to protect the population and avert threats,” Robert Möller added.
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