Detecting coronavirus in waste water
The study “Building up the early warning surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 based on waste water analysis”
Researchers of the University of Tartu are creating an early warning surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 based on waste water analysis. International experience has shown that traces of the virus can be detected in waste water samples even before clinical patients are found. Waste water analysis also provides early information about the local spread of the virus. The study aims to discover latent outbreaks and monitor the dynamics of outbreaks.
Waste water samples are collected in all Estonian county centres and towns with more than 10,000 inhabitants. In the collection of samples, the University of Tartu cooperates with the Estonian Environmental Research Centre and water companies operating the water treatment plants of Estonian towns. Waste water samples are analysed for the traces of coronavirus at the laboratories of the University of Tartu Institute of Technology that have the required technical capacity and trained staff.
The study started in August 2020.
Map of monitoring coronavirus in waste water
- Waste water samples for monitoring coronavirus are collected at the beginning of each week.
- The results will be known by Friday afternoon, and then also the map will be updated.
- The map gives an overview of the dynamics of the amount of coronavirus in the waste water of Estonian cities week by week since the start of the study. Clicking on the dot by the name of the city displays an overview regarding that location.
- Each particle of the coronavirus detected in the sample contains one genome copy. When analysing the samples, the number of viral genome copies per one millilitre of waste water is assessed. This gives an overview of the number of viruses in the waste water of a particular region.
- The waste water samples are collected over 24 hours as composite samples, meaning that the samples reflect the average situation of waste water that passed the sewage treatment plant during these 24 hours.
- The waste water study is a supportive measure for evaluating the spread of the coronavirus. Thus, its results must be interpreted together with other data. For more information and guidelines, representatives of local governments are advised to contact the local Health Board office.
Legend of the map
If the place name used on the map differs from the name of the municipality, it is due to the operating regions of the sewage treatment plants which may not fully correspond to the borders of municipalities.
Place names marked by an asterisk* signify districts of larger settlements:
*Järve and *Ahtme are districts of Kohtla-Järve
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Map of waste water surveillance results of 27. December - 31. December:
Author of the animation: Peeter Laas, Research Fellow in Molecular Ecology at the University of Tartu
What can the waste water samples tell us?
We are monitoring the presence of positive signal (coronavirus DNA) in the samples. The methodology for that is currently being developed.
The project is led by Professor of Technology of Antimicrobial Compounds of the University of Tartu Tanel Tenson and Senior Research Fellow in Molecular Ecology Veljo Kisand.
Presentations and media coverage:
• Tanel Tenson’s overview of the opportunities of waste water analysis presented at the conference “Intelligent adaptation to the coronavirus” that took place from 26 to 27 November:
29.01.2021 - 25.01-29.01 results: Concentration of coronavirus in waste water samples has increased
Based on Decree no. 1.1-2/20/179 of the Minister of Education and Research of 28 July 2020, the study “Building up the early warning surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 based on waste water analysis” is financed by the Ministry of Education and Research.
Tanel Tenson, Professor of Technology of Antimicrobial Compounds of the University of Tartu, tanel.tenson [ät] ut.ee ( )tanel.tenson [ät] ut.ee ">tanel.tenson [ät] ut.ee 5344 5202
Margit Meiesaar, Project Manager of the Institute of Technology margit.meiesaar [ät] ut.ee 55649214