A novel wastewater-based epidemiology indexing method predicts SARS-CoV-2 disease prevalence across treatment facilities in metropolitan and regional populations

Richard G. Melvin, Emily N. Hendrickson, Nabiha Chaudhry, Onimitein Georgewill, Rebecca Freese, Timothy W. Schacker, Glenn E Simmons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

There is a need for wastewater based epidemiological (WBE) methods that integrate multiple, variously sized surveillance sites across geographic areas. We developed a novel indexing method, Melvin’s Index, that provides a normalized and standardized metric of wastewater pathogen load for qPCR assays that is resilient to surveillance site variation. To demonstrate the utility of Melvin’s Index, we used qRT-PCR to measure SARS-CoV-2 genomic RNA levels in influent wastewater from 19 municipal wastewater treatment facilities (WWTF’s) of varying sizes and served populations across the state of Minnesota during the Summer of 2020. SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected at each WWTF during the 20-week sampling period at a mean concentration of 8.5 × 104 genome copies/L (range 3.2 × 102–1.2 × 109 genome copies/L). Lag analysis of trends in Melvin’s Index values and clinical COVID-19 cases showed that increases in indexed wastewater SARS-CoV-2 levels precede new clinical cases by 15–17 days at the statewide level and by up to 25 days at the regional/county level. Melvin’s Index is a reliable WBE method and can be applied to both WWTFs that serve a wide range of population sizes and to large regions that are served by multiple WWTFs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number21368
JournalScientific reports
Volume11
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The work was supported by the University of Minnesota Faculty Driven Award (GES) and the University of Minnesota Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) Pre-K Discovery Scholar Award, NIH UL1TR002494 (GES).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

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