Wastewater-based Epidemiology (WBE) During the COVID-19 Pandemic and into the Future
Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) is quickly gaining traction globally as a tool to assess the COVID-19 pandemic and to inform public health decision making. With the medical practicalities of testing for SARS-CoV-2 on an individual basis being limited for a variety of reasons, WBE constitutes one potential tool that allows for rapid, comprehensive and recurring data collection to inform evidence-based decision making. Our team modeled and analyzed the feasibility, economy, opportunities and challenges of tracking COVID-19 locally and globally using WBE, taking into account as key variables factors including air temperature, average in-sewer travel time and per-capita water use. An Arizona case study illustrates that effective surveillance and public health response may occur in a two-step process in which WBE helps to identify and enumerate infected cases, whereafter clinical testing then serves to identify infected individuals in WBE-revealed hotspots. Data provided here demonstrate this approach to save money and be broadly applicable worldwide. WBE brings with it an interesting collaborative, as sewer and water districts are forming new partnerships with public health agencies and medical professionals to aid in the management of public health priorities, thereby helping to accelerate the local, regional, national and global recovery from the pandemic.
Rolf Halden, PhD, PE is a Professor at Arizona State University and Founding Director of the Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering, the nonprofit OneWaterOneHealth, and the ASU startup company, AquaVitas LLC. Rolf has authored over 230 research papers, patents, monographs, and the 2020 popular science book, Environment. Rolf is an expert in wastewater-based epidemiology for tracking harmful chemicals and infectious disease agents like SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rolf serves on the Expert Team of the U.S. American Chemical Society and has been invited repeatedly to brief the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Academies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and members of U.S. Congress on environmental health and sustainability challenges.
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