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Building knowledge of university campus population dynamics to enhance near-to-source sewage surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 detection

Lookup NU author(s): Peter Melville-Shreeve, Dr Josh Bunce, Dr Matthew WadeORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


© 2021. Wastewater surveillance has been widely implemented for monitoring of SARS-CoV-2 during the global COVID-19 pandemic, and near-to-source monitoring is of particular interest for outbreak management in discrete populations. However, variation in population size poses a challenge to the triggering of public health interventions using wastewater SARS-CoV-2 concentrations. This is especially important for near-to-source sites that are subject to significant daily variability in upstream populations. Focusing on a university campus in England, this study investigates methods to account for variation in upstream populations at a site with highly transient footfall and provides a better understanding of the impact of variable populations on the SARS-CoV-2 trends provided by wastewater-based epidemiology. The potential for complementary data to help direct response activities within the near-to-source population is also explored, and potential concerns arising due to the presence of heavily diluted samples during wet weather are addressed. Using wastewater biomarkers, it is demonstrated that population normalisation can reveal significant differences between days where SARS-CoV-2 concentrations are very similar. Confidence in the trends identified is strongest when samples are collected during dry weather periods; however, wet weather samples can still provide valuable information. It is also shown that building-level occupancy estimates based on complementary data aid identification of potential sources of SARS-CoV-2 and can enable targeted actions to be taken to identify and manage potential sources of pathogen transmission in localised communities.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Sweetapple C, Melville-Shreeve P, Chen AS, Grimsley JMS, Bunce JT, Gaze W, Fielding S, Wade MJ

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Science of the Total Environment

Year: 2022

Volume: 806

Print publication date: 01/02/2022

Online publication date: 20/09/2021

Acceptance date: 13/09/2021

Date deposited: 03/12/2021

ISSN (print): 0048-9697

ISSN (electronic): 1879-1026

Publisher: Elsevier BV


DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.150406


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Funder referenceFunder name
United Kingdom Government (Department of Health and Social Care)