Individuals infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, may shed the virus in stool before developing symptoms, suggesting that measurements of SARS-CoV-2 concentrations in wastewater could be a "leading indicator" of COVID-19 prevalence. Multiple studies have corroborated the leading indicator concept by showing that the correlation between wastewater measurements and COVID-19 case counts is maximized when case counts are lagged. However, the meaning of "leading indicator" will depend on the specific application of wastewater-based epidemiology, and the correlation analysis is not relevant for all applications. In fact, the quantification of a leading indicator will depend on epidemiological, biological, and health systems factors. Thus, there is no single "lead time" for wastewater-based COVID-19 monitoring. To illustrate this complexity, we enumerate three different applications of wastewater-based epidemiology for COVID-19: a qualitative "early warning" system; an independent, quantitative estimate of disease prevalence; and a quantitative alert of bursts of disease incidence. The leading indicator concept has different definitions and utility in each application.
Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; Surveillance; Wastewater-based epidemiology.
Copyright © 2021. Published by Elsevier Ltd.