The COVID-19 pandemic saw many countries successfully track the spread of the disease by sampling wastewater. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been evaluating the impact of the pandemic on the water sector and contributed to the dialogue around wastewater surveillance as an early warning tool to track community transmission of COVID-19.
Wastewater contains bacteria, viruses and pathogens excreted by humans. Surveillance can therefore be a valuable public health tool for tracking the spread of infectious diseases such as the flu, cholera, monkeypox and typhoid.
According to a recent study, surveillance enables rapid pathogen detection and community prevalence quantification. It can also help identify hotspots of antimicrobial resistance by tracking the concentration of antibiotics in wastewater.
We sat down with UNEP wastewater expert Riccardo Zennaro to learn more.