Qualitative and quantitative detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in untreated wastewater in Western Cape Province, South Africa

Johnson, R. ; Muller, C. J. F. ; Ghoor, S. ; Louw, J. ; Archer, E. ; Surujlal-Naicker, S. ; Berkowitz, N. ; Volschenk, M. ; Brocker, L. H. L. ; Wolfaardt, G. ; Van der Walt, M. ; Mutshembele, A. M. ; Malema, S. ; Gelderblom, H. C. ; Muhdluli, M. ; Gray, G. ; Mathee, A. ; Street, R. (2021-01-28)

CITATION: Johnson, R. et al. 2021. Qualitative and quantitative detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in untreated wastewater in Western Cape Province, South Africa. South African Medical Journal, 111(3):198-202, doi:10.7196/SAMJ.2021.v111i3.15154.

The original publication is available at http://www.samj.org.za

Article

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Recent studies have shown that the detection of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material in wastewater may provide the basis for a surveillance system to track the environmental dissemination of this virus in communities. An effective wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) system may prove critical in South Africa (SA), where health systems infrastructure, testing capacity, personal protective equipment and human resource capacity are constrained. In this proof-of-concept study, we investigated the potential of SARS-CoV-2 RNA surveillance in untreated wastewater as the basis for a system to monitor COVID-19 prevalence in the population, an early warning system for increased transmission, and a monitoring system to assess the effectiveness of interventions. The laboratory confirmed the presence (qualitative analysis) and determined the RNA copy number of SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (quantitative) analysis from 24-hour composite samples collected on 18 June 2020 from five wastewater treatment plants in Western Cape Province, SA. The study has shown that a WBE system for monitoring the status and trends of COVID-19 mass infection in SA is viable, and its development and implementation may facilitate the rapid identification of hotspots for evidence-informed interventions.

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