Paper-Based Device Could Detect SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus in Wastewater
An approach called the wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE), which is already recognized as an effective way to trace illicit drugs and obtain information on health, disease, and pathogens, could provide an effective and rapid way to predict the potential spread of SARS-CoV-2, a novel coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease, by picking up on biomarkers in feces and urine from disease carriers that enter the sewer system. A rapid testing kit using a paper-based device could be used on-site at wastewater treatment plants to trace sources and determine whether there are potential carriers in local areas.
A recent outbreak of COVID-19 has spread rapidly around the globe, with cases now confirmed in 130 countries worldwide.
Some clinical cases have found that some carriers of the virus may be asymptomatic, with no fever, and no, or only slight symptoms of infection.
Without the ability to screen these asymptomatic patients quickly and effectively, these unsuspecting carriers have the potential to increase the risk of disease transmission if no early effective quarantine measures are implemented.
Therefore, to trace unknown sources of SARS-CoV-2, fast and accurate screening of potential virus carriers and diagnosis of asymptomatic patients is a crucial step for intervention and prevention at the early stage.
“In the case of asymptomatic infections in the community or when people are not sure whether they are infected or not, real-time community sewage detection through paper analytical devices could determine whether there are SARS-CoV-2 carriers in an area to enable rapid screening, quarantine and prevention,” said senior author Dr. Zhugen Yang, a lecturer in sensor technology at Cranfield University.
“If SARS-CoV-2can be monitored in a community at an early stage through WBE, effective intervention can be taken as early as possible to restrict the movements of that local population, working to minimize the pathogen spread and threat to public health.”
Live SARS-CoV-2 virus can be isolated from the feces and urine of infected people and the virus can typically survive for up to several days in an appropriate environment after exiting the human body.
The team’s paper device is folded and unfolded in steps to filter the nucleic acids of pathogens from wastewater samples, then a biochemical reaction with preloaded reagents detects whether the nucleic acid of SARS-CoV-2 infection is present.
The results are visible to the naked eye: a green circle indicating positive and a blue circle negative.
“We have already developed a paper device for testing genetic material in wastewater for proof-of-concept, and this provides clear potential to test for infection with adaptation,” Dr. Yang said.
“This device is cheap and will be easy to use for non-experts after further improvement.”
“We foresee that the device will be able to offer a complete and immediate picture of population health once this sensor can be deployed in the near future.”
The team’s work was published in the journal Environmental Science Technology.
Kang Mao et al. Can a Paper-Based Device Trace COVID-19 Sources with Wastewater-Based Epidemiology? Environ. Sci. Technol, published online March 23, 2020; doi: 10.1021/acs.est.0c01174