Wastewater based epidemiology as a surveillance tool during the current COVID-19 pandemic on a college campus (East Carolina University) and its accuracy in predicting SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks in dormitories

Avian White, Guy Iverson, La Nika Wright, John T. Fallon, Kimberly P. Briley, Changhong Yin, Weihua Huang, Charles Humphrey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The COVID-19 outbreak led governmental officials to close many businesses and schools, including colleges and universities. Thus, the ability to resume normal campus operation required adoption of safety measures to monitor and respond to COVID-19. The objective of this study was to determine the efficacy of wastewater-based epidemiology as a surveillance method in monitoring COVID-19 on a college campus. The use of wastewater monitoring as part of a surveillance program to control COVID-19 outbreaks at East Carolina University was evaluated. During the Spring and Fall 2021 semesters, wastewater samples (N = 830) were collected every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from the sewer pipes exiting the dormitories on campus. Samples were analyzed for SARS-CoV-2 and viral quantification was determined using qRT-PCR. During the Spring 2021 semester, there was a significant difference in SARS-CoV-2 virus copies in wastewater when comparing dorms with the highest number student cases of COVID-19 and those with the lowest number of student cases, (p = 0.002). Additionally, during the Fall 2021 semester it was observed that when weekly virus concentrations exceeded 20 copies per ml, there were new confirmed COVID-19 cases 85% of the time during the following week. Increases in wastewater viral concentration spurred COVID-19 swab testing for students residing in dormitories, aiding university officials in effectively applying COVID testing policies. This study showed wastewater-based epidemiology can be a cost-effective surveillance tool to guide other surveilling methods (e.g., contact tracing, nasal/salvia testing, etc.) to identify and isolate afflicted individuals to reduce the spread of pathogens and potential outbreaks within a community.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0289906
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume19
Issue number4 April
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2024
Externally publishedYes

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