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Title: Passive swab versus grab sampling for detection of SARS-CoV-2 markers in wastewater
Early detection of the COVID-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2, is key to mitigating the spread of new outbreaks. Data from individual testing is increasingly difficult to obtain as people conduct non-reported home tests, defer tests due to logistics or attitudes, or ignore testing altogether. Wastewater based epidemiology is an alternative method for surveilling a community while maintaining individual anonymity; however, a problem is that SARS-CoV-2 markers in wastewater vary throughout the day. Collecting grab samples at a single time may miss marker presence, while autosampling throughout a day is technically challenging and expensive. This study investigates a passive sampling method that would be expected to accumulate greater amounts of viral material from sewers over a period of time. Tampons were tested as passive swab sampling devices from which viral markers could be eluted with a Tween-20 surfactant wash. Six sewersheds in Detroit were sampled 16–22 times by paired swab (4 h immersion before retrieval) and grab methods over a five-month period and enumerated for N1 and N2 SARS-CoV-2 markers using ddPCR. Swabs detected SARS-CoV-2 markers significantly more frequently (P < 0.001) than grab samples, averaging two to three-fold more copies of SARS-CoV-2 markers than their paired grab samples (p < 0.0001) in the assayed volume (10 mL) of wastewater or swab eluate. No significant difference was observed in the recovery of a spiked-in control (Phi6), indicating that the improved sensitivity is not due to improvements in nucleic acid recovery or reduction of PCR inhibition. The outcomes of swab-based sampling varied significantly between sites, with swab samples providing the greatest improvements in counts for smaller sewersheds that otherwise tend to have greater variation in grab sample counts. Swab-sampling with tampons provides significant advantages in detection of SARS-CoV-2 wastewater markers and are expected to provide earlier detection of new outbreaks than grab samples, with consequent public health benefits.  more » « less
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Science of The Total Environment
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National Science Foundation
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