The shedding of pathogens by infected humans enables the use of sewage monitoring to conduct wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE). Although most WBE studies use data from large sewage treatment plants, timely data from smaller catchments are needed for targeted public health action. Traditional sampling methods, like autosamplers or grab sampling, are not conducive to quick ad hoc deployments and high-resolution monitoring at these smaller scales. This study develops and validates a cheap and easily deployable passive sampler unit, made from readily available consumables, with relevance to the COVID-19 pandemic but with broader use for WBE. We provide the first evidence that passive samplers can be used to detect SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater from populations with low prevalence of active COVID-19 infections (0.034 to 0.34 per 10,000), demonstrating their ability for early detection of infections at three different scales (lot, suburb, and city). A side by side evaluation of passive samplers (n = 245) and traditionally collected wastewater samples (n = 183) verified that the passive samplers were sensitive at detecting SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater. On all 33 days where we directly compared traditional and passive sampling techniques, at least one passive sampler was positive when the average SARS-CoV-2 concentration in the wastewater equaled or exceeded the quantification limit of 1.8 gene copies per mL (n = 7). Moreover, on 13 occasions where wastewater SARS-CoV-2 concentrations were less than 1.8 gene copies per mL, one or more passive samplers were positive. Finally, there was a statistically significant (p < 0.001) positive relationship between the concentrations of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater and the levels found on the passive samplers, indicating that with further evaluation, these devices could yield semi-quantitative results in the future. Passive samplers have the potential for wide use in WBE with attractive feasibility attributes of cost, ease of deployment at small-scale locations, and continuous sampling of the wastewater. Further research will focus on the optimization of laboratory methods including elution and extraction and continued parallel deployment and evaluations in a variety of settings to inform optimal use in wastewater surveillance.
- sampling methods
- wastewater surveillance
- wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE)