New approaches for the quantitative detection of human pathogenic viruses within the freshwater-marine continuum

Lead Research Organisation: Bangor University
Department Name: Sch of Natural Sciences

Abstract

Viruses pose one of the biggest threats to human wellbeing being responsible for numerous infections and millions of deaths worldwide each year. Most of these viral diseases are passed via the faecal-oral route in which contaminated food and water are frequently implicated in the primary infectivity phase. Although many of these infections are self-limiting, the societal and economic burden should not be underestimated. For example, Norovirus (NoV) is estimated to cause over 2 million cases of illness in the UK each year resulting in millions of days of lost productivity and an economic burden estimated to exceed £100 million to the NHS directly and over £2 billion annually to the wider economy. Worryingly, it is clear from a range of critical reviews that the burden of waterborne disease is likely to increase in Europe in response to climate change. This increasing problem is being exacerbated by increased pressure on wastewater infrastructure (due to population rise), sewer misconnections and a greater incidence of storms and flood events causing the release of untreated sewage (stormwater discharge) into river networks and the coastal zone. Considering the magnitude of the problem and the disease burden forecast for the near future, it is timely to develop new strategic approaches for mitigating against viral contamination and to develop new and improved risk assessment tools for protecting human health.

In view of this, our proposal aims to address the critical need to develop and validate new tools for the detection and surveillance of human pathogenic viruses in freshwater, estuarine and coastal environments. Specifically, we will design and test experimental and modelling tools to permit the robust recovery and quantification of viral populations from contrasting matrices (e.g. seawater, freshwater, sediments, effluent, shellfish). These tools will be designed to capture the viral populations in both space and time. We will focus on viruses of strategic iortance from a human health perspective (e.g. Norovirus, Sapovirus, Hepatitis A/E), however, these will be placed in a wider context via metavirome analysis of RNA and DNA viral communities. These techniques will be deployed and demonstrated at the catchment-to-coast scale whilst simultaneously answering fundamental questions about the temporal and spatial dynamics of viral flow. This knowledge will be used to validate next generation mathematical models capable of predicting viral flow through the river network and coastal zone. Combined, this information will be used with key stakeholders (e.g. Cefas) in the implementation of new methods and guidelines for assessing infection risk (e.g. in recreational waters, beaches & shellfisheries) and for protecting human health.

Our proposal directly addresses the strategic aims of the NERC Environmental Microbiology and Human Health (EMHH) Programme. As requested by the call, we will provide "scientific evidence to support fast and efficient identification of pathogenic microorganisms in environmental media which can be used in appropriate tools and models for the protection of public health targeting the freshwater and coastal zone". The work is also directly relevant to the policy objectives and strategic aims of the Food Standards Agency, Defra and European Union (DG Sanco, and DG Mare).

Planned Impact

This proposal is designed to protect human health from the ever present threat of viral infection that exists in the environment. For example, Norovirus is estimated to cause over 2 million cases of illness in the UK each year, resulting in millions of days of lost productivity and an economic burden estimated to exceed £100 million to the NHS directly and over £2 billion annually to the wider economy. A reduction in the disease incidence would therefore be of great benefit to the UK economy. To ensure our project has lasting impact, a range of key stakeholders have been actively engaged in the formulation and writing of this proposal to ensure that it directly meets their needs, complements existing research and is fit for purpose. Specifically, this proposal will be of benefit to water quality managers and regulators, both national and international. The main UK beneficiaries will be the Food Standards Agency, Cefas (Defra), Environment Agency, water companies, local authorities and the shellfish industry as well as UK academia. Internationally, the work will directly inform the European Environment Agency, EU-DG MARE and EU-DG SANCO, however, our project addresses an issue of global relevance, and therefore the impact will be far-reaching. Stakeholders will benefit as follows:

1. Human pathogenic viruses are rarely measured in river, estuarine and coastal waters and therefore are not used by the Environment Agency, Food Standards Agency or EU for regulatory purposes. Although ISO accredited methods of detection have been established by the team (e.g. NoV in shellfish by Cefas), uncertainty still remains on their detection in some matrices and additionally as to whether these PCR-detected viruses are still infective to humans. Therefore the formulation of regulatory standards for shellfish, bathing waters etc is currently a subject of considerable debate. As risk assessment must be based on robust scientific research, we will provide key underpinning data for picymakers and regulators.

2. Cefas work directly with the UK government and EU to monitor the marine environment and to demonstrate UK compliance with national and international marine legislation. A key part of Cefas' work is to detect and advise on the effects of anthropogenic drivers on the marine environment. Having Cefas embedded in the project will bring lasting benefits in ensuring that the information generated will have real impact. As an example, David Lees (Cefas) is Director of the European Union Reference Laboratory (EURL) monitoring bacteriological and viral contamination of bivalve molluscs which represents a primary forum for our findings. Our existing strong links with the UK Food Standards Agency and the European Union (Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, DG-MARE; Directorate-General for Health and Consumer, DG-SANCO), the Consumers, Health and Food Executive Agency (CHAFEA), European Food Standards Agency (EFSA), European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH) means that we can disseminate and discuss the project findings with the regulatory and medical community through well-established channels.

3. Our project is highly relevant to water companies. Welsh Water are key stakeholders in our project while delivery to the wider water industry will be made through the UK Water Industries Research (UKWIR).

4. Key stakeholders are Public Health Wales, Public Health England and Scotland Public Health Network.

5. The Shellfish Association of Great Britain (SAGB) is an ideal vehicle to disseminate our findings to the shellfish industry and the aquaculture industry in general. Shelagh Malham attends regular SAGB meetings which bring together the shellfish industry including producers and processers, several government and non-governmental organisations and has lobby activity within Westminster for issues affecting the industry. This proposal addresses some of the top priority issues facing the industry.

Publications

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Boxman IL (2016) International linkage of two food-borne hepatitis A clusters through traceback of mussels, the Netherlands, 2012. in Euro surveillance : bulletin Europeen sur les maladies transmissibles = European communicable disease bulletin

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Campos CJA (2017) Risk factors for norovirus contamination of shellfish water catchments in England and Wales. in International journal of food microbiology

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Farkas K (2018) Seasonal and diurnal surveillance of treated and untreated wastewater for human enteric viruses. in Environmental science and pollution research international

 
Title T shirts and other products produced for the VIRAQUA project 
Description promotional material 
Type Of Art Image 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact promote the project at events 
 
Description That pathogenic viruses are bound to sediments in freshwater
Developed new methods to extract viruses from sediments and waters which could be useful for risk monitoring of bathing waters and shellfisheries.
Exploitation Route In risk assessment modelling for protecting human health when they visit the marine, freshwater and estuarine environment (ongoing) .
Sectors Environment,Healthcare

URL http://www.viraqua.uk
 
Description School visits to tell them about pathogenic viruses Helping local industries (recreational and food producers associated with water in the Conwy catchment) with water quality assessment and risk assessment School science days
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Environment,Healthcare
Impact Types Societal

 
Description ESRC IAA Impact Project Grant
Amount £16,241 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2018 
End 12/2018
 
Description STARS CDT Case Partner
Amount £60,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of East Anglia 
Department EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2017 
End 09/2022
 
Title CASCADE 
Description CASCADE model predicts viral flow through the catchment to the coast 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Allowed us to produce risk maps for viruses in the catchment and to predict travel times of viruses. 
URL http://www.viraqua.uk
 
Title TELEMAC 
Description 2D estuarine model for predicting viral flow in the estuary-coastal zone 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Allowed prediction of risk maps for viruses 
URL http://www.viraqua.uk
 
Description Applications for funding on microbial source tracking in Chinese watersheds with XJTLU, Souzhou 
Organisation Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University 
Country China 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Provision of expertise in formulating the application and acting as Co-investigators
Collaborator Contribution PI and host for grant application
Impact Key Programme Special Fund (KSF)' for exploratory research (any field) jointly funded by XJTLU and Suzhou Industrial Park Technology and Innovation Bureau. The funding amount is 200,000 RMB (20K GBP) for preliminary/exploratory research on CrAssphage for faecal source tracking our NSFC proposal. Award confirmed, start date TBA.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Collaboration with National Trust staff 
Organisation National Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Knowledge exchange with National Trust staff who manage estate land in the Conwy catchment, particularly at Bodnant Gardens in teh Hiraethlyn catchment where we have been give permission to site one of our high resolution sampling stations, and in the headwaters of the Conwy in the Mignient where The National Trust are undertaking a range of management strategies aimed at increasing the retention of carbon within the peatland landscape.
Collaborator Contribution See above. Local knowledge advice on mitigation measures, and access to sites suitable for the installation and operation of our sampling equipment.
Impact Site access and knowledge exchange. Ongoing at present.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Collaboration with Welsh Water 
Organisation Welsh Water
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Data and knowledge sharing
Collaborator Contribution Data and knowledge sharing on water quality issues in the Conwy catchment
Impact Joint datasets
Start Year 2016
 
Description CEH Conwy Catchment Stakeholder Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Professors Johnes, Jones and Evans gave presentations to a large group of stakeholder organisations as a CEH-led Stakeholder engagement event at the Glasdir Centre in Llanrwst, Conwy catchment on 16/06/2015. New links were made with local Natural Resources Wales staff and National Trust field officers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Conwy Catchment Partnership meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact On 13/02/17, the WP3 project team attended and presented an update on the DOMAINE programme at the Conwy Catchment Partnership Stakeholder Meeting held at Llanwrst, in the Conwy catchment. The meeting was attended by The National Trust, Natural Resource Wales, Welsh Water and RSPB Cymru
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Meeting with Food Standards Agency 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Meeting with FSA to discuss active viral management of shellfisheries
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Meeting with Welsh Water 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Meeting on 3 occasions to discuss water quality issues
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Off-grid water quality monitoring technologies 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact On 20/09/16 Chris Yates (WP1) presented an invited paper on Nutrient and fluorescence sensing at a stakeholder-led workshop at the University of the West of England. The workshop organisers were OTT Hydromet and Sea-bird Coastal, manufacturers of a number of the instruments deployed on the DOMAINE monitoring platform. The workshop brought together like-minded users and researcher using off-grid water quality monitoring technologies
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.ott.com/ott-hydromet-water-quality-solutions/
 
Description Public Health Wales meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting about active disease management
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description School Science Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Science Open Day (University)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Shellfish safety workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Meeting to discuss the outcomes of VIRAQUA and its implications for national policy
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Stakeholder meeting in London 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact NERC-EMHH Environmental Microbiological Risk Symposium
March 14 2018, 9:00 am - 4:00 pm
Royal Geographical Society, 1 Kensington Gore
London, SW7 2AR............The VIRAQUA and RESERVOIRS teams join together to provide a forum for the discussion of viruses and antimicrobial resistant bacteria in UK waters. Prominent researchers from both academia and industry will gather to discuss the latest knowledge and thinking on viral risk management and antimicrobial resistant bacteria/genes in the form of keynote talks and short presentations to initiate discussions and an exchange of ideas on science, risk and future policy options. We aim to show stakeholders how research findings from the programme can be implemented and lead discussions to ascertain the next focus for the next generation of research programmes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.viraqua.uk/event/nerc-emhh-environmental-microbiological-risk-symposium/
 
Description Talk to CAS China 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk at CAS China on research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Twitter feed 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact VIRAQUA twitter feed
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description VIRAQUA newsletter 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Quarterly newsletter sent to stakeholders
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.viraqua.uk/news/
 
Description meetings with Shellfish industry 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Meeting to discuss active management
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact website with up to date news and activities
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.viraqua.uk/