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SARS-CoV-2 detected in community wastewater of different catchments in Chennai: Study

Webinar on ‘Monitoring of community wastewater for early signalling the spread of COVID- 19' held in Chennai

Prime News, National and International, Chennai (Tamil Nadu), December 14:- An Indo-Swiss study titled ‘Monitoring of community wastewater for early signalling the spread of COVID-19′ in Chennai, supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), was conducted by a consortium of scientists, academicians and policy scientists from SRM Institute of Science and Technology (SRMIST), The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and Mu Gamma Consultants Pvt Ltd (MGC).

A webinar on ‘Monitoring of community wastewater for early signalling the spread of COVID- 19’ was organised on Friday (December 11) to disseminate the findings of the study and discuss the policy implications. The study analysed the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in the community wastewater of different catchments in Chennai, the first-of-its-kind in the region. A total of 156 samples were analysed in the STPs of Chennai City, SRM campus and Chennai Metro Area during partial and post-lockdown period, out of which 48% (75 numbers) was found to be positive.

The study entails pre-monsoon and post-monsoonal survey along the wastewater discharge points in Adayar and Cooum Riverine belt flowing through the densely populated region of Chennai to develop early signalling spread of COVID-19 in communities during partial and post-lock down periods in 2020.

The study found that monitoring of community wastewater is an early, cost-effective, unbiased community-level indicator of the presence of COVID-19 and also of ‘hotspots’ within a community. It can alert asymptomatic infections in the community through real-time community sewage detection and guide decisions about where and when to impose or relax more targeted restrictions on movement and activity. It can potentially also alert a second and subsequent wave of the pandemic .

Dr Girija Bharat of Mu Gamma Consultants said that wastewater has emerged as a good indicator for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 as confirmed by several research studies across the globe. With that background, we set out to conduct this study in Chennai which confirmed that the level of presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus in community wastewater is directly correlated to the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

Jonathan Demenge, Head of International Cooperation, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, India, opened the webinar and welcomed the speakers and participants to the event.

Dr Vladimir P Beskoski, University of Belgrade-Faculty of Chemistry, Serbia, discussed the lessons learnt from international studies on testing SARS-CoV-2 virus in urban sewage. He emphasised that continuous wastewater monitoring can help in understanding trends of current outbreaks and identify new outbreaks so as to prevent the occurrence of the second and third waves of the pandemic.

Prof (Dr) Paromita Chakraborty of SRMIST presented the highlights of the study and the advantages of wastewater surveillance as an early warning system through the detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA (using RT-PCR techniques) in human faeces a few days to a week before symptoms appear not only in the case of infected but also asymptomatic persons.

The study has enormous relevance for a country like India, where more than 70% of the wastewater generated is directly discharged to water bodies. Though the virulence of SARS- CoV-2 in wastewater is not evident, the outflow of sludge and water effluents from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) is of public health concern.

Noted policy makers Dr S K Sarkar, Distinguished Fellow, TERI (former secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India); Dr Saloni Goel, Specialist, NITI Aayog and Jaishankar, Executive Engineer, CMWSSB, Chennai, participated in the webinar and deliberated on the policy implications of the study.

This study has the potential of high replicability in urban settings of India for increasing the coverage of wastewater monitoring and surveillance towards COVID-19 and for scientifically informed decisions to implement public health intervention strategies consistent with legal and ethical considerations. Wastewater-based Epidemiology has played an important role in the eradication of polio in 2011; the polio surveillance network can be a viable resource for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater. (NGB, KS)

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