Wastewater test could provide early warning of COVID-19

Summary: Researchers have developed a new paper device that can be put into wastewater systems to detect COVID-19. The test works by picking up on biomarkers of the virus in feces and urine. The test can help monitor communities most at risk of the virus and help agencies to restrict the movement of the population at risk.

Source: Cranfield University

Researchers at Cranfield University are working on a new test to detect SARS-CoV-2 in the wastewater of communities infected with the virus.

The wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) approach could provide an effective and rapid way to predict the potential spread of novel coronavirus pneumonia (COVID-19) by picking up on biomarkers in faeces and urine from disease carriers that enter the sewer system.

Rapid testing kits using paper-based devices could be used on-site at wastewater treatment plants to trace sources and determine whether there are potential COVID-19 carriers in local areas.

Dr Zhugen Yang, Lecturer in Sensor Technology at Cranfield Water Science Institute, said: “In the case of asymptomatic infections in the community or when people are not sure whether they are infected or not, real-time community sewage detection through paper analytical devices could determine whether there are COVID-19 carriers in an area to enable rapid screening, quarantine and prevention.

“If COVID-19 can be monitored in a community at an early stage through WBE, effective intervention can be taken as early as possible to restrict the movements of that local population, working to minimise the pathogen spread and threat to public health.”

Recent studies have shown that live SARS-CoV-2 can be isolated from the faeces and urine of infected people and the virus can typically survive for up to several days in an appropriate environment after exiting the human body.

This shows the device
The paper device is folded and unfolded in steps to filter the nucleic acids of pathogens from wastewater samples, then a biochemical reaction with preloaded reagents detects whether the nucleic acid of SARS-CoV-2 infection is present. Results are visible to the naked eye: a green circle indicating positive and a blue circle negative. The image is credited to Cranfield University.

The paper device is folded and unfolded in steps to filter the nucleic acids of pathogens from wastewater samples, then a biochemical reaction with preloaded reagents detects whether the nucleic acid of SARS-CoV-2 infection is present. Results are visible to the naked eye: a green circle indicating positive and a blue circle negative.

“We have already developed a paper device for testing genetic material in wastewater for proof-of-concept, and this provides clear potential to test for infection with adaption,” added Dr Yang. “This device is cheap (costing less than £1) and will be easy to use for non-experts after further improvement.

“We foresee that the device will be able to offer a complete and immediate picture of population health once this sensor can be deployed in the near future.”

WBE is already recognised as an effective way to trace illicit drugs and obtain information on health, disease, and pathogens. Dr Yang has developed a similar paper-based device to successfully conduct tests for rapid veterinary diagnosis in India and for malaria in blood among rural populations in Uganda.

Paper analytical devices are easy to stack, store and transport because they are thin and lightweight, and can also be incinerated after use, reducing the risk of further contamination.

Funding: Further development of the test is being sponsored by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

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Source:
Cranfield University
Media Contacts:
Cranfield Media Relations – Cranfield University
Image Source:
The image is credited to Cranfield University.

Original Research: Open access
“Can a Paper-Based Device Trace COVID-19 Sources with Wastewater-Based Epidemiology?”. Kang Mao, Hua Zhang, Zhugen Yang.
Environmental Science & Technology doi:10.1021/acs.est.0c01174.

Abstract

Can a Paper-Based Device Trace COVID-19 Sources with Wastewater-Based Epidemiology?

A recent outbreak of novel coronavirus pneumonia (COVID-19) caused by SARS-CoV-2 infection has spread rapidly around the globe, with cases now confirmed in 130 countries worldwide. Although public health authorities are racing to contain the spread of COVID-19 around the world, the situation is still grim. About 158 111 confirmed cases and 5946 cumulative deaths (81 059 confirmed cases and 3204 cumulative deaths from China) have been reported around the globe as of March 15, 2020. Some clinical cases have found that some carriers of the virus may be asymptomatic, with no fever, and no, or only slight symptoms of infection. Without the ability to screen these asymptomatic patients quickly and effectively, these unsuspecting carriers have the potential to increase the risk of disease transmission if no early effective quarantine measures are implemented. Therefore, to trace unknown COVID-19 sources, fast and accurate screening of potential virus carriers and diagnosis of asymptomatic patients is a crucial step for intervention and prevention at the early stage.

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