Genomic testing of wastewater to promote public health and safeguard economic performance
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the urgent need for early warning surveillance systems that can provide information to public health authorities on emerging COVID-19 variants and other infectious diseases. Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) is a non-invasive, comprehensive and cost-effective early warning system that enables population-level monitoring independent of clinical testing. The research team has already developed an innovative platform for field-based sampling of wastewater followed by optimized nucleic acid purification in the lab. They have partnered with Alberta Health and municipal end-users to demonstrate that COVID-19 case numbers can be predicted with a six-day lead time, mirroring results from other teams globally. This project will leverage existing wastewater surveillance activities to analyze other high priority disease targets in Alberta municipalities and First Nations communities. As well as mitigating infection transmission and supporting the early detection of outbreaks, WBE can potentially create economic benefits by minimizing indirect effects of increased disease burden on employment, family structure, mental health, and education.