COVID-19 Detection Via Wastewater Surveillance

Tracking the spread of SARS-CoV-2 virus using viral concentration in wastewater samples

May 27, 2021

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Tracking the spread of COVID-19 is the key to eliminating it. Since COVID-19 can spread even when the carrier has little or no symptoms, early detection is often difficult. Nevertheless, researchers quickly came up with a potential solution to the problem of early detection—systematic testing of wastewater catchments for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 viral particles.


Our recently published scientific brief (11) examines COVID-19 Detection Through Concentration of SARS-CoV-2 Virus in Wastewater.


College campuses, mindful of the need to protect returning students, have been among the first to implement systematic wastewater surveillance. Shortly after the SARS-CoV-2 virus was identified as the culprit in the COVID-19 outbreak, a collaboration between Stanford University and the University of Michigan began looking into wastewater-based detection¹. More recently, UC San Diego built on that successful research to institute their own wastewater surveillance program². The program has already identified SARS-CoV-2 viral outbreaks and was able to pinpoint outbreak locations to specific student residence buildings.


None of these life-saving programs would be possible without the technology necessary to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus with a high degree of accuracy and sensitivity. This technology depends on the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA particles from human wastewater sample; a daunting task given that wastewater is a highly complex substrate. Additionally, SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA copy numbers present in wastewater can be quite low, especially at the beginning of an outbreak, when positive identification is most valuable.


The scientific brief details how SARS-CoV-2 RNA particles, shed by COVID patients, can be detected despite being highly diluted in wastewater samples.  SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA particles are first concentrated using Pall centrifugal ultrafiltration devices. These spin devices all work similarly and have identical filter membranes. They are available in a range of volume formats to provide flexibility according to project needs. The Pall  JumbosepTM centrifugal device is often preferred for wastewater sample processing, due to the large volume capacity (20-60 mL) and the fact that the device can be decontaminated and reused multiple times without carryover.


SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA concentration on centrifugal spin devices is highly efficient, generally achieving 50x concentration and over 90% recovery within a few minutes. Following concentration, viral RNA is extracted from the filtered sample, and RT-PCR is performed to amplify any SARS-CoV-2 signal. Extracted RNA quality is crucial to this step, to avoid any risk of a false negative report. The earlier an outbreak of COVID-19 outbreak can be detected, the more quickly one can stop it from spreading in the community.


Pall is committed to providing solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic. From working directly on vaccine development and production, to enabling researchers to monitor and track COVID outbreaks in the community, we are working diligently to provide researchers with the tools they need to eliminate this disease.


Learn more about our solutions for COVID-19 wastewater surveillance.



  1. Moore M. A sewage surveillance effort to track COVID-19. The Michigan Engineer News Center. Mar 2020.
  2. KUSI newsroom. UCSD detects COVID-19-causing virus in multiple wastewater samples on campus. Dec 2020.
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