Wastewater monitoring: ‘the James Webb Telescope for population health’

Article by Exemplars News: “When the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a lockdown across Bangladesh and her research on environmental exposure to heavy metals became impossible to continue, Dr. Rehnuma Haque began a search for some way she could contribute to the pandemic response.

“I knew I had to do something during COVID,” said Dr. Haque, a research scientist at the International Centre for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b). “I couldn’t just sit at home.”

Then she stumbled upon articles on early wastewater monitoring efforts for COVID in Australia, the NetherlandsItaly, and the United States. “When I read those papers, I was so excited,” said Dr. Haque. “I emailed my supervisor, Dr. Mahbubur Rahman, and said, ‘Can we do this?’”

Two months later, in June 2020, Dr. Haque and her colleagues had launched one of the most robust and earliest national wastewater surveillance programs for COVID in a low- or middle-income country (LMIC).

The initiative, which has now been expanded to monitor for cholera, salmonella, and rotavirus and may soon be expanded further to monitor for norovirus and antibiotic resistance, demonstrates the power and potential of wastewater surveillance to serve as a low-cost tool for obtaining real-time meaningful health data at scale to identify emerging risks and guide public health responses.

“It is improving public health outcomes,” said Dr. Haque. “We can see everything going on in the community through wastewater surveillance. You can find everything you are looking for and then prepare a response.”

A single wastewater sample can yield representative data about an entire ward, town, or county and allow LMICs to monitor for emerging pathogens. Compared with clinical monitoring, wastewater monitoring is easier and cheaper to collect, can capture infections that are asymptomatic or before symptoms arise, raises fewer ethical concerns, can be more inclusive and not as prone to sampling biases, can generate a broader range of data, and is unrivaled at quickly generating population-level data…(More)” – See also: The #Data4Covid19 Review