In Practice

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

R Johnson, C J F Muller, S Ghoor, J Louw, E Archer, S Surujlal-Naicker, N Berkowitz, M Volschenk, L H L Bröcker, G Wolfaardt, M van der Walt, A M Mutshembele, S Malema, H C Gelderblom, M Muhdluli, G Gray, A Mathee, R Street

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.

Authors' affiliations

R Johnson, Biomedical Research and Innovation Platform, South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa; Division of Medical Physiology, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

C J F Muller, Biomedical Research and Innovation Platform, South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa; Division of Medical Physiology, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa; Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, University of Zululand, KwaDlangezwa, South Africa

S Ghoor, Biomedical Research and Innovation Platform, South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa; Genomics Centre, South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

J Louw, Biomedical Research and Innovation Platform, South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa; Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, University of Zululand, KwaDlangezwa, South Africa

E Archer, Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

S Surujlal-Naicker, Scientific Services, Water and Sanitation Department, City of Cape Town Metropolitan Municipality, South Africa

N Berkowitz, City Health, City of Cape Town, South Africa; Department of Public Health, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa

M Volschenk, Scientific Services, Water and Sanitation Department, City of Cape Town Metropolitan Municipality, South Africa

L H L Bröcker, Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

G Wolfaardt, Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa; Department of Chemistry and Biology, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada

M van der Walt, Tuberculosis Platform, South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

A M Mutshembele, Tuberculosis Platform, South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

S Malema, Environment and Health Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council, Johannesburg, South Africa

H C Gelderblom, COVID-19 Prevention Network, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Wash., USA

M Muhdluli, Chief Research Operations Office, South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

G Gray, Office of the President, South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

A Mathee, Environment and Health Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council, Johannesburg, South Africa; Environmental Health Department, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

R Street, Environment and Health Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council, Johannesburg, South Africa

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Keywords

SARS-CoV-2; COVID-19; Viral RNA; Wastewater; Environmental epidemiology

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2021;111(3):198-202. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2021.v111i3.15154

Article History

Date submitted: 2021-01-28
Date published: 2021-01-28

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