School of Policy Studies

School of Policy Studies
School of Policy Studies

Queen's Contagion Cultures Lecture Series - S. Brown, SJ Payne, G Hall

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

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Flushed Intelligence- Detecting outbreaks using wastewater-based epidemiology 

  • Stephen Brown, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Studies
  • Sarah Jane Payne, Assistant Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Queen’s University
  • Geof Hall, Associate Director Education and Outreach, Beaty Water Research Centre, Adjunct Professor, Department of Civil Engineering & School of Environmental Studies, Queen's University 

Since the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) was identified in late 2019, it has spread worldwide, infecting over 96 million individuals and resulting in over 2 million deaths, with numbers continuing to grow. Although the respiratory route is the primary transmission pathway of concern, SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in stool of infected individuals as well as in individuals where the illness has resolved, and the virus is no longer detectable in respiratory specimens. Accordingly, feces of COVID-19 infected patients may serve as a source of contamination or infection as well as a potential mechanism for community surveillance, including for asymptomatic carriers. Environmental surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in municipal sewage could act as an early warning system of outbreaks as well as identify high-risk communities (e.g. campus residents, correctional institutions, etc.), providing vital monitoring and predictive tools for early intervention in future waves of the COVID-19 outbreak. Community surveillance initiatives worldwide have already begun to demonstrate the ability to detect SARS-CoV-2 in raw sewage, even in low prevalence settings, and suggests that the quantification of the virus in wastewater provides the ability to monitor the prevalence of COVID-19 infections in the community. However, wastewater sample preparation and analysis methods require further development and validation. 

In this seminar, Beaty Water Research Centre (BWRC) affiliated faculty Drs. Stephen Brown (Chemistry & Environmental Studies), Sarah Jane Payne (Civil Engineering) and Geof Hall (Civil Engineering & Environmental Studies), will review the work and progress of others in this field, with a special focus on research groups in Ontario. They will discuss the work in progress at Queen’s (funded by the Ministry of the Environment Conservation and Parks) to establish a laboratory at the BWRC for validated testing of sewage water samples for SARS-CoV-2 as first step in Kingston to establishing sentinel surveillance system for COVID-19, which can also be applied to inevitable future viral outbreaks across Canada.