Back-estimation of norovirus infections through wastewater-based epidemiology: A systematic review and parameter sensitivity

Publication Name

Water Research


The amount of norovirus RNA (Ribonucleic Acid) in raw wastewater, collected from a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), can provide an indication of disease prevalence within the sampled catchment. However, an accurate back-estimation might be impeded by the uncertainties from in-sewer/in-sample degradation of viral RNA, variable shedding magnitude, and difficulties in measurement within raw wastewater. The current study reviewed the published literature regarding the factors of norovirus shedding, viral RNA decay in wastewater, and the occurrence of norovirus RNA in raw wastewater based on molecular detection. Sensitivity analysis for WBE back-estimation was conducted using the reported data of the factors mentioned above considering different viral loads in wastewater samples. It was found that the back-estimation is more sensitive to analytical detection uncertainty than shedding variability for norovirus. Although seasonal temperature change can lead to variation of decay rates and may influence the sensitivity of this pathogen-specific parameter, decay rates of norovirus RNA contribute negligibly to the variance in estimating disease prevalence, based on the available data from decay experiments in bulk wastewater under different temperatures. However, the effects of in-sewer transportation on viral RNA decay and retardation by sewer biofilms on pipe surfaces are largely unknown. Given the highest uncertainty from analytical measurement by molecular methods and complexity of in-sewer processes that norovirus experienced during the transportation to WWTP, future investigations are encouraged to improve the accuracy of viral RNA detection in wastewater and delineate viral retardation/interactions with wastewater biofilms in real sewers.

Open Access Status

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Funding Sponsor

Australian Research Council



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