Using surveillance tactics to alert and prevent virus spread.

Photo: Adobe Stock

Photo: Adobe Stock

Problem

How can communities better anticipate and mitigate the spread of COVID-19?

Findings

Research has shown that fragments of the RNA from SARS-CoV-2 is present in human waste. As a result, sampling wastewater for the virus has the potential to give an overall snapshot of its prevalence in a community.

  • The team monitored existing flow meters in several manholes at the University Park campus to determine the volume of water passing through and used devices programmed to collect water samples every 5 minutes for 24 hours in the manholes as well as from the treatment plants on campus and in the surrounding community.
  • A technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplified the genetic material in the samples to the level of detection and recorded the concentration of virus fragments per milliliter of water to track the rate of increase or decrease in the concentration over time.

Impact

Wastewater monitoring provides a cost-effective way of monitoring for things that are rare; for example, polio is monitored in this way throughout the world.

  • Adding this surveillance tool helps to enhance monitoring for COVID-19 and could enable leaders to take swift actions to minimize the virus's spread to help protect the health and safety of the community.

Research Credit

Team

Participating Departments

Partners

  • Penn State Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences
  • Penn State Office of the Physical Plant
  • University Area Joint Authority
  • Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology
  • USDA Agricultural Research Service Pasture Systems &amp
  • Watershed Management Research Unit
  • Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment
  • Pennsylvania Department of Health

Other Funding

  • Penn State Office of the Provost
  • Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Institute for Sustainable Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences (SAFES)
  • Penn State Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences

Federal and State Appropriations

  • USDA NIFA Hatch Multistate Projects PEN04726 and PEN04671, Accession # 1020769 and # 1017582

News Story

Office for Research and Graduate Education

Address

217 Agricultural Administration Building
University Park, PA 16802-2600

Office for Research and Graduate Education

Address

217 Agricultural Administration Building
University Park, PA 16802-2600