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

Jobling, Kelly; Quintela-Baluja, Marcos; Hassard, Francis; Adamou, Panagiota; Blackburn, Adrian; Research Team, Term; McIntyre-Nolan, Shannon; O'Mara, Oscar; Romalde, Jesus; Di Cesare, Mariachiara; Graham, David W.; Singer, Andrew C. ORCID: 2024 Comparison of gene targets and sampling regimes for SARS-CoV-2 quantification for wastewater epidemiology in UK prisons. Journal of Water and Health, 22 (1). 64-76.

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Prisons are high-risk settings for infectious disease transmission, including COVID-19, due to their enclosed and semi-enclosed environments. The close proximity between prisoners and staff, and the diversity of prisons reduces the effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as social distancing and clinical testing. Therefore, alternative health monitoring methods, such as wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE), are needed to track pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2. This pilot study assessed WBE to quantify SARS-CoV-2 prevalence in prison wastewater to determine its utility within a health protection system for residents. The study analysed 266 samples from six prisons in England over a 12-week period for nucleoprotein 1 (N1 gene) and envelope protein (E gene) using quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction. Both gene assays successfully detected SARS-CoV-2 fragments in wastewater samples, with both genes significantly correlating with COVID-19 case numbers across the prisons (p < 0.01). However, in 25% of the SARS-positive samples, only one gene target was detected, suggesting that both genes be used to reduce false-negative results. No significant differences were observed between 14- and 2-h composite samples, although 2-h samples showed greater signal variance. Population normalisation did not improve correlations between the N1 and E genes and COVID-19 case data. Overall, WBE shows considerable promise for health protection in prison settings.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Pollution (Science Area 2017-)
ISSN: 1477-8920
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
Additional Keywords: COVID-19, health monitoring, prisons, RT-qPCR, SARS-CoV-2, wastewater-based epidemiology
NORA Subject Terms: Health
Date made live: 19 Dec 2023 13:57 +0 (UTC)

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