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Center of Research Excellence in Wastewater-Based Epidemiology


The mission of our center is to advance wastewater surveillance for public health action.


Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) has been used to advance our understanding of the emergence and epidemiology of pathogenic viruses such as polioviruses and noroviruses and chemicals of emerging concern such as opioid crisis in communities around the world. The detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater has been reported in several countries. WBE could be used to monitor the prevalence, molecular epidemiology, and potential eradication of emerging infectious diseases in communities in the upcoming months. WBE approach is an appropriate and alternative asset for targeted high-risk areas such as dorms, senior assisted living, and criminal justice facilities. However, there is a lack of understanding of critical factors impacting pathogen detection in wastewater including concentration methods, sample type, temporal variation, and size of the service area. Several studies have used different virus concentration methods including ultrafiltration, polyethylene glycol (PEG) precipitation, ultracentrifugation, and filtration with an electronegative membrane. To date, there are no standard approaches for quantifying viruses in wastewater. There is an urgent need for methods optimization to ensure safety, ease of operation, reproducibility, and cost-effectiveness for reliable WBE implementation.

Mathematical and Artificial Intelligence models based on the underlying transmission mechanisms of the disease can help the medical, scientific, and public health communities understand and anticipate the spread of an epidemic and evaluate the potential effectiveness of different approaches for bringing an outbreak under control. These models need to be designed around local conditions, modes of transmission, community organization, and they need to be populated with local parameters. We will couple our wastewater transport models with an agent-based infection transmission model to estimate the impact of the infection, identify community needs, and assess the effectiveness of mitigation approaches. These models will complement and enhance WBE by expanding spatial and temporal coverage of WBE. Modeling across very different sites will provide insights into the relative importance of each factor for viral transmission elsewhere. The usefulness of any model, however, will be dependent on the quality and comprehensiveness of the data supplied.