Wastewater surveillance for SARS-CoV-2: Lessons learnt from recent studies to define future applications

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67 Citations (Scopus)


Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) is successful in the detection of the spread of SARS-CoV-2. This review examines the methods used and results of recent studies on the quantification of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater. WBE becomes essential, especially with virus transmission path uncertainty, limitations on the number of clinical tests that could be conducted, and a relatively long period for infected people to show symptoms. Wastewater surveillance was used to show the effect of lockdown on the virus spread. A WBE framework tailored for SARS-CoV-2 that incorporates lessons learnt from the reviewed studies was developed. Results of the review helped outline challenges facing the detection of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater samples. A comparison between the various studies with regards to sample concentration and virus quantification was conducted. Five different primers sets were used for qPCR quantification; however, due to limited data availability, there is no consensus on the most sensitive primer. Correlating the slope of the relationship between the number of gene copies vs. the cumulative number of infections normalized to the total population served with the average new cases, suggests that qPCR results could help estimating the number of new infections. The correlation is improved when a lag period was introduced to account for asymptomatic infections. Based on lessons learnt from recent studies, it is recommended that future applications should consider the following: 1) ensuring occupational safety in managing sewage collection and processing, 2) evaluating the effectiveness of greywater disinfection, 3) measuring viral RNA decay due to biological and chemical activities during collection and treatment, 4) assessing the effectiveness of digital PCR, and 5) conducting large scale international studies that follow standardized protocols.

Original languageEnglish
Article number143493
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - Mar 10 2021


  • COVID-19
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Virus concentration
  • Wastewater virus surveillance
  • Wastewater-based epidemiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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