Low prevalence of Covid-19 in wastewater samples, shows BMC survey

The civic body has been providing manpower to the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, which has been collecting wastewater samples.
Health experts have said that continuous monitoring of wastewater samples for Covid-19 will play a key role in the coming days. (HT PHOTO)
Health experts have said that continuous monitoring of wastewater samples for Covid-19 will play a key role in the coming days. (HT PHOTO)
Published on Apr 12, 2022 10:41 PM IST
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BySomita Pal

Mumbai: Less than 50 of the 300 wastewater samples tested for Covid-19 via RT-PCR returned positive, indicating low prevalence of Covid-19 in the city. Nearly a month ago, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had undertaken wastewater surveillance to assess the prevalence of Covid-19 in the community and detect new Covid variants.

“We had collected more than 300 wastewater samples from close to 19 locations in the city. Less than 50 samples tested positive for Covid-19. We are increasing the number of locations and will collect a greater number of wastewater samples from pumping stations, areas near dumping grounds, and hospitals,” said Suresh Kakani, additional municipal commissioner, BMC.

The civic body has been providing manpower to the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, which has been collecting wastewater samples.

With a lesser number of people testing positive for Covid-19 and getting hospitalised, BMC had decided to undertake genome sequencing of sewage water samples to monitor the presence or emergence of Covid-19 variants. However, genome sequencing has been delayed as a minimum of 250 positive samples are required for the exercise.

Health experts have said that continuous monitoring of wastewater samples for Covid-19 will play a key role in the coming days.

“The wastewater surveillance can provide an early warning of Covid-19 spread in the community and help health authorities to take early action. The regular surveillance and maintaining a record can give a reliable trend of the Covid-19 situation in the community,” said Dr Lancelot Pinto, consultant pulmonologist and epidemiologist at PD Hinduja Hospital, Mahim.

Unlike other respiratory viruses, RNA [ribonucleic acid] of SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses can be detected in human faeces. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had in September 2020 launched the National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS) to track the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, in wastewater samples. It said wastewater surveillance is a new public health tool to understand community Covid-19 spread.

Soon after the outbreak of the pandemic, the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar (IIT-Gn) joined a global consortium of 51 premier universities and research institutes to undertake surveillance of sewage water to help determine and quantify the excretion of the Sars-Cov-2 virus, which caused Covid-19. Recent studies have reported that in 27% to 89% of patients, the infection is accompanied by persistent shedding of virus RNA in the stool.

On the importance of wastewater surveillance for Covid-19, professor Manish Kumar, head, Sustainability Cluster School of Engineering UPES, Dehradun, said testing wastewater for Covid-19 is a cost-effective way to understand the Covid-19 situation in the community. Kumar was an assistant professor of civil engineering at IITGN when the institute joined the global consortium.

“In the recent global roundtable wastewater surveillance, which was held last week, it was said that viral load is not going to be high if there are not many cases. Apart from helping to understand of a new variant is in circulation, maintaining a record of the viral load and its study will play a key role,” he said.

Kumar said that even if fewer wastewater samples are testing positive, the surveillance must continue. “The essence of the wastewater surveillance is that if we keep on monitoring and checking the viral load, it is easier to know whether the Covid-19 condition in the community is improving or deteriorating,” he explained.

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