Tracing COVID-19 Trails in Wastewater: A Systematic Review of SARS-CoV-2 Surveillance with Viral Variants

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Water (Switzerland)


The emergence of new variants of SARS-CoV-2 associated with varying infectivity, pathogenicity, diagnosis, and effectiveness against treatments challenged the overall management of the COVID-19 pandemic. Wastewater surveillance (WWS), i.e., monitoring COVID-19 infections in communities through detecting viruses in wastewater, was applied to track the emergence and spread of SARS-CoV-2 variants globally. However, there is a lack of comprehensive understanding of the use and effectiveness of WWS for new SARS-CoV-2 variants. Here we systematically reviewed published articles reporting monitoring of different SARS-CoV-2 variants in wastewater by following the PRISMA guidelines and provided the current state of the art of this study area. A total of 80 WWS studies were found that reported different monitoring variants of SARS-CoV-2 until November 2022. Most of these studies (66 out of the total 80, 82.5%) were conducted in Europe and North America, i.e., resource-rich countries. There was a high variation in WWS sampling strategy around the world, with composite sampling (50/66 total studies, 76%) as the primary method in resource-rich countries. In contrast, grab sampling was more common (8/14 total studies, 57%) in resource-limited countries. Among detection methods, the reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR)-based sequencing method and quantitative RT-PCR method were commonly used for monitoring SARS-CoV-2 variants in wastewater. Among different variants, the B1.1.7 (Alpha) variant that appeared earlier in the pandemic was the most reported (48/80 total studies), followed by B.1.617.2 (Delta), B.1.351 (Beta), P.1 (Gamma), and others in wastewater. All variants reported in WWS studies followed the same pattern as the clinical reporting within the same timeline, demonstrating that WWS tracked all variants in a timely way when the variants emerged. Thus, wastewater monitoring may be utilized to identify the presence or absence of SARS-CoV-2 and follow the development and transmission of existing and emerging variants. Routine wastewater monitoring is a powerful infectious disease surveillance tool when implemented globally.

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