Number of COVID-19 cases required in a population to detect SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater in the province of Alberta, Canada: Sensitivity assessment

Xiaoli Pang , Qiaozhi Li , Bonita E. Lee , Tiejun Gao , Yuanyuan Qiu , Erik Ellehoj , Jiaao Yu , Mathew Diggle , Graham Tipples , Rasha Maal-Bared , Deena Hinshaw , Christopher Sikora , Nicholas J. Ashbolt , James Talbot , Steve E. Hrudey


Received April 01, 2022,Revised , Accepted April 27, 2022, Available online May 05, 2022

Volume 35,2023,Pages 843-850

With a unique and large size of testing results of 1,842 samples collected from 12 wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) for 14 months through from low to high prevalence of COVID-19, the sensitivity of RT-qPCR detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater that correspond to the communities was computed by using Probit analysis. This study determined the number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population required to detect SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater at defined probabilities and provided an evidence-based framework of wastewater-based epidemiology surveillance (WBE). Input data were positive and negative test results of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater samples and the corresponding new COVID-19 case rates per 100,000 population served by each WWTP. The analyses determined that RT-qPCR-based SARS-CoV-2 RNA detection threshold at 50%, 80% and 99% probability required a median of 8 (range: 4-19), 18 (9-43), and 38 (17-97) of new COVID-19 cases /100,000, respectively. Namely, the positive detection rate at 50%, 80% and 99% probability were 0.01%, 0.02%, and 0.04% averagely for new cases in the population. This study improves understanding of the performance of WBE SARS-CoV-2 RNA detection using the large datasets and prolonged study period. Estimated COVID-19 burden at a community level that would result in a positive detection of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater is critical to support WBE application as a supplementary warning/monitoring system for COVID-19 prevention and control.

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