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Wastewater based epidemiology (WBE)

Simon Spooner

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By analysing and counting fragments of RNA from the SARS-COV2 virus that are found in wastewater we can build a picture of the prevalence and rates of spread of the pandemic in the population. This can inform response plans and, especially as the current clinical testing regimes wind down, will become a primary source of information about the levels of infection in the UK. The technologies, techniques and infrastructure now established for monitoring Covid can also be used for other health threats such as influenza, norovirus or anti biotic resistant bacteria and also to provide new tools for better public health management such as monitoring of metabolites of serotonin that can provide an objective measurement of the general wellbeing of a community. Making WBE work requires bringing together data from multiple different sources, understanding the layout and performance of sewer assets and coordinating action between different water companies, laboratories, service providers and government at local and national levels. There are many challenges that are now being overcome so that the data collected in the field can flow into digital representations of the chemicals in sewers, the status and behaviour of people in their homes and the feedback in models between the signal from wastewater, estimates of infection levels and impacts on healthcare services. WBE could grow into a new public health service, utilising the existing wastewater assets and service providers but being coordinated and managed through new organisations and entities supported by new digital tools. 

To learn more, read the full paper.


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  • Alexandra Robasto changed the title to Wastewater based epidemiology (WBE)

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