Correlation between SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentration in wastewater and COVID-19 cases in community: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Publication Name

Journal of Hazardous Materials


Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) has been considered as a promising approach for population-wide surveillance of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Many studies have successfully quantified severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) RNA concentration in wastewater (CRNA). However, the correlation between the CRNA and the COVID-19 clinically confirmed cases in the corresponding wastewater catchments varies and the impacts of environmental and other factors remain unclear. A systematic review and meta-analysis were conducted to identify the correlation between CRNA and various types of clinically confirmed case numbers, including prevalence and incidence rates. The impacts of environmental factors, WBE sampling design, and epidemiological conditions on the correlation were assessed for the same datasets. The systematic review identified 133 correlation coefficients, ranging from -0.38 to 0.99. The correlation between CRNA and new cases (either daily new, weekly new, or future cases) was stronger than that of active cases and cumulative cases. These correlation coefficients were potentially affected by environmental and epidemiological conditions and WBE sampling design. Larger variations of air temperature and clinical testing coverage, and the increase of catchment size showed strong negative impacts on the correlation between CRNA and COVID-19 case numbers. Interestingly, the sampling technique had negligible impact although increasing the sampling frequency improved the correlation. These findings highlight the importance of viral shedding dynamics, in-sewer decay, WBE sampling design and clinical testing on the accurate back-estimation of COVID-19 case numbers through the WBE approach.

Open Access Status

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Funding Sponsor

National Institutes of Health



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