Wastewater-based epidemiology as a useful tool to track SARS-CoV-2 and support public health policies at municipal level in Brazil

Water Res. 2021 Mar 1;191:116810. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2021.116810. Epub 2021 Jan 5.


Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) has been applied as a complementary approach for spatial tracking of coronavirus disease 2019 cases (COVID-19) as well as early warning of the occurrence of infected populations. The present study presents the result of the monitoring of sanitary sewerage in the municipality of Niterói, a metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and its use as a complementary indicator in the surveillance of COVID-19 cases, thus assisting actions of public health from local authorities. Twelve composite raw sewage samples were weekly collected from two wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) and alternately from 17 sewer pipes (SP) from surrounding neighbourhoods and slums throughout 20 weeks (April 15th to August 25th, 2020). Two hundred twenty-three samples were concentrated using the ultracentrifugation-based method and SARS-CoV-2 RNA detected and quantified by RT-qPCR using primers and probe targeting the N2 genome. SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected in 84.3% (188/223) of samples with a positive rate ranging from 42% (5/12) in the first week of monitoring to 100% during the peak of epidemic with viral concentration ranging from 3.1 to 7.1 log10 genome copies /100 mL throughout the studied period. Positive rates were higher in WWTPs when compared to SP, being useful tool for monitoring trends in the evolution of the COVID-19 curve, while SP data were more effective when health public interventions were needed. Whole-genome sequencing using Illumina MiSeq System confirmed the lineage of three genomes as B.1.1.33 (clade G) containing the nucleotide substitutions observed in strains that circulate in the Rio de Janeiro during the period of this study. In addition, geoprocessing tool was used to build heat maps based on SARS-CoV-2 data from sewage samples, which were weekly updated and available online to the general population as an indicator of the ongoing epidemic situation in Niterói city, raising public awareness.

Keywords: COVID-19; Public health policies; SARS-CoV-2; Wastewater-based epidemiology; Whole-genome sequencing.

MeSH terms

  • Brazil
  • COVID-19*
  • Cities
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • RNA, Viral
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Waste Water
  • Wastewater-Based Epidemiological Monitoring*


  • RNA, Viral
  • Waste Water