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The myriad ways sewage surveillance is helping fight COVID around the world

From the subarctic community of Yellowknife, Canada, to the subtropical city of Brisbane, Australia, scientists in more than 50 nations are now monitoring the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in sewage. The number of sewage-surveillance programmes tracking COVID-19 has exploded during the past year from a dozen or so research projects to more than 200, following the discovery that whole virus particles and viral fragments are shed in faeces.

The information garnered is helping scientists to track down cases, predict surges, identify where to target testing, and estimate overall numbers of infected people in cities or regions. Although sewage surveillance has been used for several decades to identify polio outbreaks and target immunization programmes, and, more recently, to detect illicit drug use, the pandemic has brought new focus and investment in it as a means of tracking public health.

“There was always an interest in wastewater epidemiology, but now it’s taken flight,” says Ana Maria de Roda Husman, an infectious-diseases researcher at the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in Bilthoven.

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