Corona viruses can be detected in wastewater using new test methods

Corona viruses can be detected in wastewater using new test methods

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New test to detect SARS-CoV-2 in waste water

An English research team is currently working on a new test method for the detection of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in municipal wastewater. This approach could be a quick and effective way of predicting the potential spread of the virus within an area.

Researchers at Cranfield University in England are developing a rapid test that can be used to isolate, enrich and recognize genetic parts of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in waste water. According to the research team, evidence of the presence of the coronavirus in certain areas or communities can be provided without having to test the entire population. The test procedure was recently presented in the journal "Environmental Science & Technology".

Coronavirus biomarkers in faeces and urine

Recent studies have shown that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus can be isolated from the feces and urine of infected people and that the virus can survive for several days after exiting the human body in a suitable environment. An English research team took advantage of this and developed a test that can be used to detect corona viruses in waste water.

Sewage treatment plants could uncover foci of infection

The test responds to biomarkers in faeces and urine from people who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2. The excrement reaches sewage treatment plants via the sewage system, where samples of the waste water could be tested. This would enable early detection of areas in which such viruses are increasingly detectable.

Detect asymptomatic vectors

“In the case of asymptomatic infections in the community or when people are unsure whether they are infected or not, real-time detection of community wastewater using paper analyzers could determine if there is COVID-19 infected in an area, for fast To enable investigation, quarantine and prevention, ”explains Dr. Zhugen Yang from the Cranfield Water Science Institute.

Test enables local restrictions to be assessed

"If COVID-19 is monitored by sewage in an early stage in a community, intervention can take place as early as possible," emphasizes Dr. Yang. For example, the movement of the population could only be restricted locally and the threat to public health minimized.

How does the test work?

A special test strip is folded and unfolded in predetermined steps. Through this process, the nucleic acid of the pathogen is filtered out of the wastewater samples. Using pre-loaded reagents, a biochemical reaction can then be used to determine whether the nucleic acid of SARS-CoV-2 is present. According to the research team, the results can be read with the naked eye - a green circle indicates a positive result and a blue circle a negative result.

Inexpensive and easy to use by laypeople

"This test is inexpensive (less than £ 1, or € 1.13) and will be easy for non-experts to use after further improvements," Yang says. In addition, the paper analysis strips are easy to stack, store and transport. After use, they can be burned to reduce further contamination. The research team anticipates that this test will be able to provide a complete and immediate picture of the health status of the population in relation to COVID-19.

Similar tests have been used for other purposes

As the research team reports, similar test methods have already been used, for example, to identify illegal drugs in wastewater or to obtain other information about pathogens in wastewater. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Kang Mao, Hua Zhang, Zhugen Yang: Can a Paper-Based Device Trace COVID-19 Sources with Wastewater-Based Epidemiology? in: Environmental Science & Technology, 2020,
  • Cranfield University: Wastewater test could provide early warning of COVID-19 (published: 3/30/2020),

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