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Wastewater analysis can help predict virus breakout faster 

Print edition : Aug 25, 2022 T+T-

Wastewater analysis can help predict virus breakout faster 

Wastewater stagnating in the Perandoor canal in Kochi.

Wastewater stagnating in the Perandoor canal in Kochi. | Photo Credit: VIBHU H

Bengaluru-based TIGS is standardising protocols to monitor and analyse pathogens in sewage water.

The Tata Institute for Genetics and Society (TIGS) in Bengaluru is standardising a set of protocols (guidelines) that can be used by municipalities across India for effectively monitoring pathogens in wastewater. The TIGS’ protocols will allow for the meaningful analysis of sewage and provide insights on various health parameters of a population.

TIGS has roped in two key Bengaluru civic agencies, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, and the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board, to provide wastewater samples from sewershed sites. Scientists and technicians at TIGS will capture near real-time virus circulation at a population level from these wastewater samples.

Though it is true that viruses like SARS-COV-2 cannot survive outside of their host under such environmental conditions, wastewater analysis can identify pathogens at an early stage and alert the authorities when a new variant/mutation emerges. The idea is that infection concentrations in wastewater correlate with clinical diagnosis, with trends appearing many days earlier in wastewater than in clinical data.

Wastewater analysis has an added benefit: it allows for the genomic surveillance (GS) of a very large number of samples at a fraction of the cost of conducting it on an individual basis and provides a reasonably accurate representation of an entire neighbourhood, thereby allowing for a planning and implementation of mitigation measures.

Scientists at TIGS are preparing a robust, plug-in module that can be offered by a service provider to civic administrations.

Speaking to Frontline, Dr Rakesh Mishra, Director, TIGS, explained that wastewater analysis “has complemented routine diagnostic surveillance by capturing near real-time virus circulation at a population level in very reliable and unbiased manner”.

Mishra, who headed the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, until May 2021, told Frontline that wastewater surveillance allows scientists to test an entire city “without even one clinical sample needing to be

collected”. Said Mishra: “Wastewater analysis gives granular data, as wards/localities contributing to each wastewater source can be mapped and provides scientists an inkling of the extent of any pathogens or infectious diseases in a specific part of the city.”

Mishra added that the TIGS’ wastewater epidemiology protocols would also create business opportunities for entrepreneurs, who, after establishing a business model using the protocols, can market the service to civic administrations.

Several countries, including Canada, the United Arab Emirates, China, the Netherlands, Singapore and the United States have utilised wastewater epidemiology, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although wastewater epidemiology got a fillip because of pioneering work on the COVID-19 virus, scientists such as Mishra say that the same strategy could also be applied to “other viral diseases, like dengue and chikungunya, and ensure better target mitigation measures”.