Respiratory Viruses in Wastewater Compared with Clinical Samples, Leuven, Belgium

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, wastewater-based surveillance has been used to track circulation levels of SARS-CoV-2. For that purpose, KU Leuven began collecting samples from a regional wastewater treatment plant in Leuven, Belgium, in December 2020. It was found that wastewater-based surveillance was an objective indicator of SARS-CoV-2 community circulation, which can be highly valuable when testing is limited. 

Many persons with acute respiratory infections (ARI) do not seek medical care, thereby enabling those infections to go undetected. Obtaining detailed information on the circulation of respiratory viruses in the community is key to elucidating their societal burden. This knowledge could enable better prediction and management of major outbreaks and could guide physicians in diagnosis. The current approach, usually based on limited reporting by sentinel physicians and laboratories, can lead to substantial data bias. We explored whether wastewater sampling can provide an alternative method for monitoring circulation of respiratory pathogens at the population level.