Implementation of environmental surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 virus to support public health decisions: Opportunities and challenges

Gertjan Medema*, Frederic Been, Leo Heijnen, Susan Petterson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

188 Citations (Scopus)


Analysing wastewater can be used to track infectious disease agents that are shed via stool and urine. Sewage surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 has been suggested as a tool to determine the extent of COVID-19 in cities and serve as an early warning for (re-)emergence of SARS-CoV-2 circulation in communities. The focus of this review is on the strength of evidence, opportunities and challenges for the application of sewage surveillance to inform public health decision making. Considerations for undertaking sampling programs are reviewed including sampling sites, strategies, sample transport, storage and quantification methods; together with the approach and evidence base for quantifying prevalence of infection from measured wastewater concentration. Published SARS-CoV-2 sewage surveillance studies (11 peer reviewed and 10 preprints) were reviewed to demonstrate the current status of implementation to support public health decisions. Although being very promising, a number of areas were identified requiring additional research to further strengthen this approach and take full advantage of its potential. In particular, design of adequate sampling strategies, spatial and temporal resolution of sampling, sample storage, replicate sampling and analysis, controls for the molecular methods used for the quantification of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater. The use of appropriate prevalence data and methods to correlate or even translate SARS-CoV-2 concentrations in wastewater to prevalence of virus shedders in the population is discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-71
Number of pages23
JournalCurrent Opinion in Environmental Science and Health
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • COVID-19
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • SSewage surveillance
  • Wastewater
  • Wastewater-based epidemiology

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