Project Number # 2060
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New release research reports
Water Research Australia has been leading an innovative, and collaborative Australia-wide investigation that developed novel methods for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater. This work enabled health departments across Australia to integrate reliable detections of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in sewage with clinical health data for COVID-19.
WaterRA has long been at the forefront of research supporting Public Health and Wastewater-Based Epidemiology (WBE) – a field of study used in broader infectious disease surveillance and mitigation efforts, such as the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. In recent years, numerous projects have been developed around the world to explore using sewage for continuous monitoring of chemicals and pathogens of emerging concern, drugs, and anti-microbial resistance (AMR).
The ColoSSoS Project – Collaboration on Sewage Surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 – was conceived in collaboration with water utility, health department, and research partners in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic this ground-breaking research project has been tracking and monitoring the presence of the virus that causes COVID-19 and its persistence in the Australian sewerage network.
Developed and implemented within four weeks of COVID-19 being declared by The World Health Organization (WHO) as a global pandemic, ColoSSoS represents an effort of over 50 organisations across water utilities, health departments, research laboratories, universities, private consultancies and global partners, all brought together by WaterRA. The impact of ColoSSoS has been immediate and is testament to the ‘better-together’ approach and unique position in the water sector that WaterRA holds as a hub where industry needs are met by research ‘know-how’.
Sewage surveillance has been successfully used for some years to monitor pathogen presence, persistence and occurrence patterns across Australia and internationally. Similar studies of chemical substance have also been undertaken. The information on pathogens is used to inform the assessment of risks from exposure to sewage by sewer workers and plumbers, to inform treatment requirements for sewage to be recycled and to assess public health risks from discharges to the environments. In addition, the information is used to assist tracking of disease patterns in the community, to help follow epidemic patterns and identify regional hotspots.
The evidence is particularly useful in that the testing is non-invasive and doesn’t require patient sampling and it is able to be carried out systematically in a statistically sound manner over time. The methods also allow for the detection of the virus within large populations of people at a cost that is low relative to the cost of clinical swab testing of the same population numbers. In addition to the validation of the scientific methods used for analysis and establishing of operational requirements for successful sewage sampling, the ColoSSoS project has resulted in numerous real-world examples from across Australia demonstrating the efficacy of wastewater surveillance as an additional yet important tool for health authorities to use in the early detection of COVID-19 outbreaks within the community. These case studies are currently being compiled by individual state health departments.
ColoSSoS Project Phases - pandemic response to pandemic preparedness
Phase 1 | Inititation Phase 2 | Method Development Phase 3 | Investigation into Phase 4 | Continuous improvement
possibility of routine surveillance early warning potential, ongoing R&D
ColoSSoS Project Aims - supporting the public health response
The ColoSSoS project was founded with the goal of framing and implementing all research in direct response to how the research outcomes will address end-user needs and support public health decision-making. This required an open sharing of ideas and learnings between project partners, which has been the key to the national success of the program.
1. ColoSSoS generated information on community-wide prevalence of COVID-19
Sewage sampling data was integrated with health data (the testing of individuals through nasal swab testing), providing a valuable tool for government health authorities to determine the incidence of disease and the impact of physical distancing and a range of other public health response measures.
2. Supporting vulnerable communities
The methods allow government policy-makers to best target their response efforts, thereby support metropolitan, rural and remote communities, as well as disadvantaged and at-risk communities with limited health infrastructure.
3. Routine and ongoing monitoring
Having established the utility of wastewater testing as a tool to support the early detection of SARS-CoV-2 in the community, ongoing work by state health departments around Australia looks at how the methods developed can be used going forward as communities around Australia, and around the world look to emerge from the pandemic.
4. Supporting our neighbours
WaterRA has continued to work with our ColoSSoS partners to transfer knowledge and protocols generated by ColoSSoS to support our neighbouring countries in their response to COVID-19. Supporting global pandemic response efforts provides a longer-term benefit to the Australian public.
5. Continued research and development
ColoSSoS partners continue to undertake research around variant detection and the mobility and persistence of the virus in sewer networks. Our unique position in Australia is being able to do this in a low-prevalence scenario, which allows us to not only more easily validate new findings, but also develop targeted programs of testing. This research will ensure that governments continue to implement response actions quickly and efficiently.
Some links to further information:
Water Research Australia talks LIVE on ABC News about ColoSSoS and sewage surveillance
FAQs and Fact Sheet on sewage surveillance has been developed
ColoSSoS project team's Publication Review of COVID-19 and Implications for the Water Sector and Wastewater-Based Epidemiology
Another important component of the ColoSSoS project has been the utilisation of genomic sequencing to verify detections of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater, and development of novel methods to improve viral detection sensitivity. Click on the below link to view the related research.
The ColoSSoS project also ran a study through the National Measurement Institute of Australia to compare the performance of the surveillance methods that are currently being used across Australia and New Zealand to detect SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater. This study not only validated the methodologies of different laboratory partners, but also allowed them to optimise their protocols where required. This study was one of the first studies of its kind worldwide and important in establishing the reliability of the methods used in routine surveillance.
ColoSSoS Project Outcomes
The impact of the ColoSSoS project to the field of research has been immediate, supporting COVID-19 rapid response and control efforts nationally. This has been reflected not only in the wastewater detections that have led to early public health response and increased messaging ahead of recent outbreaks, but it is also reflected in the response from international agencies wanting to learn from Australian experiences and develop their own methods adapted from the ones developed by ColoSSoS. The successes we have seen have been:
Regular weekly and fortnightly meetings between the health departments, utilities, and laboratories in different state jurisdictions
Co-design of future research
Sampling Protocols have been developed, with each state tailoring these to create state-specific sampling plans
GIS catchment maps overlaid with clinical case data have been created
Sample concentration methodologies have been optimised
Controls have been optimised
Epidemiological case control study has been created and peer reviewed by expert task group
Reference materials have been developed
Reference standards have been created
Communications Guidelines and Key Messages have been created
Health departments have their own online reports to keep the general public informed of sewer detections
Increased literacy among the general public around wastewater monitoring
ColoSSoS Next Steps | Phase 4 - Research
WaterRA has advanced into Phase 4 of the project, which will deliver a longer-term program of WBE projects, continuing to add value to our Membership through additional research. This Phase was launched with an Open Call to all of our researchers, thought leaders and tech innovators for both RFPs and EOIs on projects and ideas related to WBE current and future challenges. The result was a series of proposals and research ideas submitted for assessment by a review committee, and the emergence of two key research topics of interest.
WaterRA is providing research seed funding to the following two proposals that have received support from our members:
1. Whole genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 to detect novel variants
2. Passive sampling of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater
In addition to delivering these two projects, WaterRA is launching a wastewater-based epidemiology Community of Interest to continue bringing together the experts from around Australia to solve the greatest challenges of our time in this field.