Use of wastewater analysis to evaluate the incidence of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in the UK population

  • Funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
  • Total publications:28 publications

Grant number: NE/V004883/1

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Key facts

  • Disease

  • Start & end year

  • Known Financial Commitments (USD)

  • Funder

    UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
  • Principle Investigator

  • Research Location

    United Kingdom, Europe
  • Lead Research Institution

    Bangor University
  • Research Category

    Epidemiological studies

  • Research Subcategory

    Disease transmission dynamics

  • Special Interest Tags


  • Study Subject


  • Clinical Trial Details


  • Broad Policy Alignment


  • Age Group

    Not Applicable

  • Vulnerable Population

    Not applicable

  • Occupations of Interest

    Not applicable


The emergence of the novel coronavirus strain SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) is now viewed as a major global threat to human health. Recent estimates predict the deaths of 15 million people worldwide and that SARS-CoV-2 infections are likely to result in an economic loss £2.1 trillion GDP. Effective monitoring of this pathogen is vital to estimate the amount of infection circulating in the human population, and to inform the design of measures for controlling the spread of disease. The number of hospitalization cases from SARS-CoV-2 related diseases (COVID-19) provides some measure of disease prevalence in the population, it provides no reliable information on mild infections and asymptomatic carriers. The use of random 'spot checks' and thermal imaging cameras have been introduced to screen for infections, though these are costly to implement and very imprecise. Consequently, better methods are needed to evaluate SARS-CoV-2 prevalence in the wider population. As SARS-CoV-2 is shed in faeces in high amounts (Xiao et al., 2020, Zhang et al., 2020), we hypothesize that wastewater can provide a powerful indicator of disease incidence at any point in time (Ye et al., 2016), particularly as most UK urban centres are served by only 1 or 2 wastewater treatment works, thereby providing a single integrated signal of millions of people in a single sample. The aim of this NERC Urgency project is therefore to: (1) use wastewater to provide near real-time information on the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 within the UK population; (2) monitor the rise and subsequent decline of SARS-CoV-2 in the UK population, and to compare this to conventional disease reporting metrics (e.g. confirmed SARS-CoV-2 hospitalization cases); (3) identify similarities in the abundance of SARS-CoV-2 in the major urban centres of the UK; (4) demonstrate the use of wastewater for the integrated surveillance of human pathogenic viruses within the human population; (5) provide stakeholders (e.g. national government, NHS, HPA, PHE, PHW, HPS, water companies etc) with critical scientific information and tools to be able to respond and adapt to current and potential future disease epidemics.

Publicationslinked via Europe PMC

Last Updated:40 minutes ago

View all publications at Europe PMC

Comparison of gene targets and sampling regimes for SARS-CoV-2 quantification for wastewater epidemiology in UK prisons.

Diurnal changes in pathogenic and indicator virus concentrations in wastewater.

Development and validation of a duplex RT-qPCR assay for norovirus quantification in wastewater samples.

Poor air passenger knowledge of COVID-19 symptoms and behaviour undermines strategies aimed at preventing the import of SARS-CoV-2 into the UK.

Rapid Assessment of SARS-CoV-2 Variant-Associated Mutations in Wastewater Using Real-Time RT-PCR.

Suitability of aircraft wastewater for pathogen detection and public health surveillance.

City-wide wastewater genomic surveillance through the successive emergence of SARS-CoV-2 Alpha and Delta variants.

Predicting the dispersal of SARS-CoV-2 RNA from the wastewater treatment plant to the coast.

Research needs for optimising wastewater-based epidemiology monitoring for public health protection.