Sewage Surveillance Can Help Us Detect The Next Pandemic Much Faster

by hridika ahire

Sewage Surveillance Can Help Us Detect The Next Pandemic Much Faster

March 26, 2021

We have read in news about the surge in COVID-19 cases exactly a year after the world shut down completely. Scientists have been trying to find a faster and more efficient method to tackle this destructive virus. A team of researchers who have now found a way to predict any such outbreaks through wastewater surveillance.

It’s crazy when we look back to March 2020 and think about how the whole world stopped and was in an apocalyptic state. Everyone was forced to stay home, and it was supposed to be just for a few weeks. No one could have thought that the Corona Virus would take up a whole year and, in the process, impose a massive hit on the world economy. It has been an entire year, and night curfews, WFH, LFH, social distancing, etc., is still very much in place.

Thanks to scientists and doctors hard work and determination, we now have a few vaccines for Covid-19. Countries like the UK, Canada, USA and Mexico have approved the vaccine named Pfizer-BioNTech to be used in their countries, and Moderna Vaccine is also on the same path. In India, the Covishield and Covaxin are being distributed widely as well.

Several preliminary studies have reported the detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater in the early stages of local outbreaks.

Detecting The Virus 30 Times Faster

With so many varieties of vaccines available in the market and many more still in the early stages of development, this tool is crucial in the battle against COVID-19. There are still so many tests, treatments, and vaccines yet to come. To speed up the testing process in detecting the COVID-19 virus, scientists have found a new tactic to detect coronavirus 30 times faster by examining the wastewater.

A sewage-handling robot has proved to have the capacity to detect the virus by examining the wastewater. Researchers have been collecting sewage from autosamplers from San Diego’s wastewater treatment plant. A study had previously shown that people who have contracted the virus shed the virus through their stool. Therefore, it made sense to look at the sewer to look for traces of the virus.

How the Sewage Surveillance Works

Surveillance of wastewater can be used to identify potential outbreaks of many such viruses before they can be diagnosed clinically. Due to the mutations of the COVID-19 virus, it has become even more difficult to detect who has contracted the virus and what the symptoms may be. Using the wastewater surveillance technique, researchers were able to see variants of COVID-19 that had been reported from different regions. This is how they found the SARS-CoV-2 genome in the sewage, which was the same genome detected by the clinics.

The samples, which are collected from the sewage, are stored in a refrigerator at 4°C immediately after collection. The wastewater and the primary sludge samples are then mixed well, and the solids and disaggregate virus particles in the water are separated by sonication. But in the process of removing solids, the SARS-CoV-2 RNA stuck to it can also be lost. The only problem is that the virus is diluted with junk from other people’s bathroom as well. It is a time-consuming process to segregates the strain of the virus from all the other waste. That is why the robot’s system takes a different and much quicker approach.

Fastening Up The Process

Wastewater surveillance has been used in many cities, school and businesses to find the coronavirus strains in their midst. It is crucial in early identification in high-risk areas. The traditional viral concentration techniques take up to six to eight hours to segregate the sewage specimens into samples to be tested for SARS-Cov-2. The new protocol concentrates about 24 samples in a 40- minute single run.

Due to the new gear that the researchers have developed, the processes that used to take up a lot of efforts in the lab have been reduced. They miniaturized and automated the system, which enabled them to reduce the stress on the scientists, use minimum resources and reduced the cost as well, making it a much quicker process.

The Robots Come In Handy

Autosamplers have been deployed in 100s of manholes throughout the city of San Diego city and the wastewater treatment plant in the city. This autosampler collects samples every 30 minutes throughout the day. These samples are transported to the labs, and the filtration process begins. Previously, in order to segregate the particles, hours of purification was done, but now, tiny magnetic beads are used to enrich the viral particles. These are nanomagnets that have the capacity to bind to a variety of respiratory viruses.

The robots are equipped with these magnets and pull out the magnetic bead that is attached to the virus and leaves the rest of the junk behind. Due to the automated sewage concentration process, 24 samples can be concentrated in 40 minutes by each robot and the RNA is extracted by the robot by processing 96 samples under 36 minutes. A polymerase chain reaction is used to point out the SARS-Cov-2 genes like the one that is used by the lab when a nasal swab is done.

City of San José Environmental Services Department’s environmental inspectors Isaac Tam and Laila Mufty deploy an autosampler into a manhole at the San José – Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility.

The Technique Has Been Successful In The Past

This technique is largely used in the San Diego school district as a precaution. This technique has also been proven very effective in curing a man of a life-threatening superbug. Dr Steffanie Strathdee used the viruses from wastewater to save her dying husband when a lethal superbug made his body its host. No doctor could help him, and neither could any antibiotics, which usually help get rid of any viruses in the body. The man, who was on his death-bed, recovered in mere five days after the viruses from the sewage due to the bacteriophages that Steffanie had used to cure her husband.

Therefore, we can say that this new robot that the researchers have modified to reduce time in the detection of the COVID-19 virus and its mutations is a crucial step in tackling the outbreak, which has started again. This technique should be adopted in India as we are now facing a surge in the number of infected people. Please stay in, people. It is not over yet; we are still fighting.



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