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Monitoring the presence and infection risk of SARS-CoV-2 in the environment: approaches, limitations and interpretation

Lookup NU author(s): Professor David Graham

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This is the final published version of a report that has been published in its final definitive form by Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, 2020.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


Abstract

Environmental monitoring for SARS-CoV-2 has been undertaken to (1) provide epidemiological evidence on the extent of outbreaks, and (2) provide evidence on the hazard posed by contaminated surfaces, water and air. The main analytical approaches to quantify virus in environmental samples include molecular methods (e.g. qPCR) and cell culture. Molecular methods are particularly widely used due to their speed, relatively low cost and lower biosafety requirements. RNA is generally more stable in the environment than infectious virus. qPCR may therefore overestimate the presence of infectious virus and data need to be interpreted carefully. Where possible, risk assessment of transmission via water, surfaces, food or air should draw on studies using cell culture (to demonstrate the presence of infectious virus) and epidemiological evidence (demonstrating that infection has taken place). In the absence of such evidence, qPCR can provide useful evidence to support decision-making on transmission risk if key factors are taken into account (Box 1). Viral particles are often distributed heterogeneously in the environment so robust sampling design is crucial for any environmental sampling programme. Key considerations for sampling water, air and surfaces are set out in sections 3-5.Environmental monitoring for SARS-CoV-2 has been undertaken to (1) provide epidemiological evidence on the extent of outbreaks, and (2) provide evidence on the hazard posed by contaminated surfaces, water and air. The main analytical approaches to quantify virus in environmental samples include molecular methods (e.g. qPCR) and cell culture. Molecular methods are particularly widely used due to their speed, relatively low cost and lower biosafety requirements. RNA is generally more stable in the environment than infectious virus. qPCR may therefore overestimate the presence of infectious virus and data need to be interpreted carefully. Where possible, risk assessment of transmission via water, surfaces, food or air should draw on studies using cell culture (to demonstrate the presence of infectious virus) and epidemiological evidence (demonstrating that infection has taken place). In the absence of such evidence, qPCR can provide useful evidence to support decision-making on transmission risk if key factors are taken into account (Box 1). Viral particles are often distributed heterogeneously in the environment so robust sampling design is crucial for any environmental sampling programme. Key considerations for sampling water, air and surfaces are set out in sections 3-5.


Publication metadata

Author(s): McGonigle D, Bennett A, Callaghan K, Dancer S, Gormley M, Graham DW, Hart A, Jones D, Kay D, Keevil B, Kelly F, Noakes C, Pilley V, Reid J, Robinson V, Wilson AJ, Wyn-Jones P, Henderson G

Publication type: Report

Publication status: Published

Series Title: Transmission of Covid-19 in the Wider Environment Group (TWEG), reporting to UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE)

Year: 2020

Pages: 17

Print publication date: 18/12/2020

Online publication date: 18/12/2020

Acceptance date: 18/12/2020

Institution: Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies

Place Published: London

URL: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/tweg-environmental-monitoring-of-viral-presence-infectivity-and-transmission-of-sars-cov-2-3-december-2020

Notes: Report from the Transmission of Covid-19 in the Wider Environment Group (TWEG), reporting to UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). Provides UK national guidance on environmental surveillance methods for SARS-CoV-2.


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