Robust epidemiological models relating wastewater to community disease prevalence are lacking. Assessments of SARS-CoV-2 infection rates have relied primarily on convenience sampling, which does not provide reliable estimates of community disease prevalence due to inherent biases. This study conducted serial stratified randomized samplings to estimate the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in 3717 participants, and obtained weekly samples of community wastewater for SARS-CoV-2 concentrations in Jefferson County, KY (USA) from August 2020 to February 2021. Using an expanded Susceptible-Infected-Recovered model, the longitudinal estimates of the disease prevalence were obtained and compared with the wastewater concentrations using regression analysis. The model analysis revealed significant temporal differences in epidemic peaks. The results showed that in some areas, the average incidence rate, based on serological sampling, was 50 % higher than the health department rate, which was based on convenience sampling. The model-estimated average prevalence rates correlated well with the wastewater (correlation = 0.63, CI (0.31,0.83)). In the regression analysis, a one copy per ml-unit increase in weekly average wastewater concentration of SARS-CoV-2 corresponded to an average increase of 1-1.3 cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection per 100,000 residents. The analysis indicates that wastewater may provide robust estimates of community spread of infection, in line with the modeled prevalence estimates obtained from stratified randomized sampling, and is therefore superior to publicly available health data.
Keywords: COVID-19; Epidemiology; Sewer; Stratified randomized sampling; Wastewater-based epidemiology.
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