SARS-CoV-2 wastewater-based epidemiology in an enclosed compound: A 2.5-year survey to identify factors contributing to local community dissemination

Long-term (>2.5 years) surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations in wastewater was conducted within an enclosed university compound. This study aims to demonstrate how coupling wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) with meta-data can identify which factors contribute toward the dissemination of SARS-CoV-2 within a local community. Throughout the pandemic, the temporal dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations were tracked by quantitative polymerase chain reaction and analyzed in the context of the number of positive swab cases, the extent of human movement, and intervention measures. Our findings suggest that during the early phase of the pandemic, when strict lockdown was imposed, the viral titer load in the wastewater remained below detection limits, with <4 positive swab cases reported over a 14-day period in the compound. After the lockdown was lifted and global travel gradually resumed, SARS-CoV-2 RNA was first detected in the wastewater on 12 August 2020 and increased in frequency thereafter, despite high vaccination rates and mandatory face-covering requirements in the community. Accompanied by a combination of the Omicron surge and significant global travel by community members, SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected in most of the weekly wastewater samples collected in late December 2021 and January 2022. With the cease of mandatory face covering, SARS-CoV-2 was detected in at least two of the four weekly wastewater samples collected from May through August 2022. Retrospective Nanopore sequencing revealed the presence of the Omicron variant in the wastewater with a multitude of amino acid mutations, from which we could infer the likely geographical origins from which the variants were imported. This study demonstrated that long-term tracking of the temporal dynamics and sequencing of variants in wastewater would aid in identifying which factors contribute the most to SARS-CoV-2 dissemination within the local community, facilitating an appropriate public health response to control future outbreaks as we now live with endemic SARS-CoV-2.

Wang, T., Wang, C., Myshkevych, Y., Mantilla-Calderon, D., Talley, E., & Hong, P.-Y. (2023). SARS-CoV-2 wastewater-based epidemiology in an enclosed compound: A 2.5-year survey to identify factors contributing to local community dissemination. Science of The Total Environment, 162466.

This work was partially funded by KAUST baseline grant BAS/1/1033-01-01 awarded to PYH and by the KAUST Smart Health Initiative for the KAUST Rapid Response Research Team. The authors would like to thank KAUST Facilities and Maintenance Utilities team for providing access to wastewater samples and for providing the wastewater volume data. The authors would also like to thank Professor Arnab Pain and his team for providing the RNA sample that serves as positive control, as well as members of the KAUST HSE (Mr. Rodion V. Gorchakov) and Community Life for collating data from swab testing and serological testing. Assistance from Dr Andri Rachmadi in the early stages of the KAUST WBE and Ms.Elaf Alahdal in the latter stages is greatly appreciated.

Elsevier BV

The Science of the total environment


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