Coordinated by AdP - Águas de Portugal and ranked as priority by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, this project has to produce a tool for detecting, quantifying, characterising and modelling the virus through analysis undertaken at wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs).
Making up the consortium responsible for project development were also the Faculty of Science of the University of Lisboa, the entity that ensures the scientific coordination of the project and the dynamic modelling activities for SARS-CoV-2 in the sanitation networks, eco-epidemiologic modelling and reconstructing the viral genomes; the Analysis Laboratory of the Higher Institute of Technology of the University of Lisbon, responsible for developing the methodologies for detecting and quantifying the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewaters; Águas do Tejo Atlântico, Águas do Norte and SIMDOURO as the sanitation management entities for the key metropolitan areas in the country and the General Directorate of Health as a member of the advisory board. This board furthermore contained representatives from EPAL, Águas do Douro e Paiva, APA – the Portuguese Environment Agency and ERSAR – the Regulatory Entity for Water and Wastewater Services.
The COVIDETECT research project arised from evidence on how the faecal excretions (notwithstanding the scope for urinary excretions) of infected individuals contain the etiologic agent of COVID-19. Regular monitoring for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in the local effluent systems belonging to the leading hospitals for infectious diseases and in higher population density areas has enabled the identification of the profile of wastewater contamination by the genetic material of this virus and the known number of infected persons.The main results of the project were:
- Solid, modular detection and quantification method with high recovery rates;
- The virus has no infectious capacity when leaving the WWTP;
- Wastewater makes it possible to identify trends in the circulation of the virus in the population;
- Anticipation of the identification of new variants in circulation.
Taking into consideration the impossibility of testing the entire population, the period of virus incubation and the presence of asymptomatic individuals, this monitoring system provides an important tool capable of serving as an early warning system, ascertaining the circulation of the virus in the population prior to its further dissemination in the community. The final objective involves deploying the system in WWTPs to act as a watchdog for the circulation of SARS-CoV-2 in the population and establishing a warning system that can in good time transfer information to the competent authorities and contribute to improving the capacity for preparing the national response to any eventual new outbreaks.