National COVID-19 Wastewater Epidemiology Surveillance Programme

Lead Research Organisation: UK Ctr for Ecology & Hydrology fr 011219
Department Name: Pollution (Wallingford)

Abstract

Wastewater-Based Epidemiology (WBE) requires relatively few resources compared to the systematic testing of populations. WBE is especially promising for novel infectious diseases, where asymptomatic cases might play a significant role in transmitting the virus. However, WBE is only now being used to monitor the spread of a pandemic infectious disease.

Early studies by ourselves and others have shown that SARS-CoV-2 RNA can be recovered from wastewater, including from wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) preceding local COVID-19 hospitalisation activity. Given the challenge of making available diagnostic tests to the entire UK population, WBE represents a potentially low-cost and immediate mechanism for understanding levels of infection within large geographic areas.

N-WESP aims to compare our methods with those of European & North American WBE teams in an inter-lab trial for understanding, supporting and improving the DEFRA COVID-19 measurements which will feed into the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC). We will also compare methods with DEFRA, the EA's and JBC whilst they explore options for finer geographical measurements. N-WESP will empower public health authorities with an optimised surveillance tool with maximal sensitivity and predictive power whose uncertainties have been well characterised.

N-WESP will determine whether SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater and sludge is infectious, and to what extent there might be downstream risks to human health. N-WESP will exploit catchment and, uniquely, sub-catchment-scale longitudinal surveillance to understand temporal and spatial heterogeneity, relationships to human disease burden distribution and whether there is potential outbreak 'hotspots' by surveilling sewer system nodes.
 
Description Wastewater contains coronavirus that can be quantified using molecular approaches, such as qPCR.
At present it is not apparent that SARS-CoV-2 remains infectious in wastewater. This question remains an open question that is being investigated using a range of methods.
Efforts are on-going to link up wastewater estimates of viral load with cases of COVID-19 in the catchment. In many cases these linkages have been successful, however, there are numerous catchments where this linkage has proven to be a significant challenge. On-going work aims to understand what attributes of a WWTP catchment allow for better correlations between viral load and cases. Similarly, what attributes of a WWTP catchment reliably contribute to poor correlations.
On-going work aims to understand the factors that impact the survival of viral RNA in sewage. Early evidence suggests the following negatively impact on RNA recovery: industry with surfactant/detergent discharges or effluent with high/low pH. Pumps within the network can expose the viral RNA leading to loss. Longer transit times are likely to reduce survival.
Many members of NWESP are active engaged in the national WBE surveillance programmes (Wales, Scotland and England), where advice on sampling, storage, analysis and modelling is provided.
Exploitation Route The expertise build within the NWESP project is being used to help inform a permanent WBE capacity within the government.
Sectors Environment,Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

 
Description NWESP has been directly feeding into governments' national wastewater-based epidemiology programmes and have delivered a report to SAGE. The knowledge and expertise developed within NWESP has facilitated expansion of WBE into school, prison and care home wastewater. Wider application of the approach for health surveillance is on-going and will help to inform the future capability within government for health surveillance.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Environment,Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Accellerated Capability Environment - Innovating a next generation autosampler and analysis
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Innovating a next generation autosampler for implementation in national wastewater based epidemiology surveillance for COVID-19 allows for a step-change in the quality of the data used to info the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The capacity to add automated analysis to an autosampler will be a massive breakthrough for the delivery of rapid surveillance data to those in public health, leading to potentially much improved health outcomes.
 
Description Advisor to UK Department of Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Joint Biosecurity Centre (Department of Health) on Wastewater Epidemiology
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Improved public health surveillance and societal outcomes during the pandemic resulted from my membership and contributions on several advisory groups on wastewater-based surveillance.
 
Description C215 - Waste Water Analysis
Amount £70,466 (GBP)
Organisation NHS England 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2021 
End 03/2021
 
Description Bio Data Networks Limited design of next gen autosampler 
Organisation Bio Data Networks
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Assistance in the design of next-generation autosampler, sample prep and analysis of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater.
Collaborator Contribution Partners contributed to the design, construction and testing of prototypes of next-gen autosamplers.
Impact We submitted a bid to the Accelerated Capability Environment call.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Bio Data Networks Limited design of next gen autosampler 
Organisation Bio Data Networks
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Assistance in the design of next-generation autosampler, sample prep and analysis of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater.
Collaborator Contribution Partners contributed to the design, construction and testing of prototypes of next-gen autosamplers.
Impact We submitted a bid to the Accelerated Capability Environment call.
Start Year 2020
 
Description BBC 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC interview: Coronavirus: Sewage testing for Covid-19 begins in England. 03 August, 2020
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-53635692
 
Description BBC Inside Science 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Smart bricks, The Royal Academy of Engineering awards for pandemic engineering solutions and detecting SARS-Cov-2 in sewage. 20 August 2020
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000lvct
 
Description BBC News 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview: BBC "Coronavirus: Testing sewage an 'easy win'" by Victoria Gill 02 July 2020
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.bbc.com/news/amp/science-environment-53257101
 
Description BMJ Interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview: BMJ "Sewage monitoring is the UK's next defence against covid-19" 15 July 2020
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m2599.full
 
Description Daily Mail Interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Daily Mail. What your loo reveals about you! From how much you drink to whether you're using an inhaler, what you flush away holds vital clues about your health. Now, scientists believe it could be an early warning system for Covid outbreaks. 05 October 2020
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-8807693/What-loo-reveals-Scientists-believe-warning-Covid...
 
Description Engineering & Technology (E&T) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview: UK-wide system to detect coronavirus in wastewater 02 July 2020
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL http://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2020/07/uk-wide-system-to-detect-coronavirus-in-wastewater/
 
Description Financial Times 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview: UK plans to track spread of coronavirus in sewage 22/05/2020
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.ft.com/content/e6ad8aa0-47ad-4ac1-b7f5-3375ab7d7ea6
 
Description How sewage can provide an early warning of coronavirus outbreaks 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Publication in: www.innovationnewsnetwork.com, The Innovation Platform, Issue 4, p188-191
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.innovationnewsnetwork.com/publication/the-innovation-platform-issue-4/
 
Description Leading Britain's Conversation (LBC) - Eddie Mair Interview. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview on live radio: 23 October 2020
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.globalplayer.com/catchup/lbc/uk/b8FPjCj/
 
Description NBC News Interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview with NBC News, "In search for a coronavirus early warning system, scientists look to the sewers" 03 July 2020
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/search-coronavirus-early-warning-system-scientists-look-sewers-n1...
 
Description Reuters 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview: How sewer science could ease testing pressure and track COVID-19 14/05/2020
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-health-coronavirus-sewage/how-sewer-science-could-ease-testing-pre...
 
Description Sky News Interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Sky News: Coronavirus: Sewage tests detect local COVID-19 hotspots. 23 October 2020
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://news.sky.com/story/amp/coronavirus-sewage-tests-detect-local-covid-19-hotspots-12111784
 
Description The Biologist, The Royal Society of Biology 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview: 'We don't have to demonstrate we can do it anymore, we need to demonstrate how well we can do it' 11 August, 2020.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://thebiologist.rsb.org.uk/biologist-covid-19/189-biologist/biologist-covid-19/2401-we-don-t-ha...
 
Description The Guardian 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview: Covid-19: what can sewage tell us? - podcast. 21 July, 2020
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.theguardian.com/science/audio/2020/jul/21/covid-19-what-can-sewage-tell-us
 
Description The Naked Scientist Interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview: NakedScientist Podcast "Searching sewage for coronavirus 14 July 2020
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.thenakedscientists.com/articles/interviews/searching-sewage-coronavirus
 
Description The Scientist 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview: Countries Begin Large-Scale Screening for SARS-CoV-2 in Sewage 14/05/2020
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/countries-begin-large-scale-screening-for-sars-cov-2-in-s...
 
Description Wired 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Inside the plan to track Covid-19 by analysing everyone's poop 25/06/2020
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.wired.co.uk/article/coronavirus-sewage-analysis-uk