Belgium begins using wastewater to predict future coronavirus flare-ups

Belgium begins using wastewater to predict future coronavirus flare-ups
Credit: Belga

Belgium launched a new coronavirus surveillance tool on 15 September to monitor Covid-19's circulation through the analysis of samples taken from wastewater, the Sciensano public health institute said Monday in a statement.

Sewage monitoring makes it possible to map the circulation of the virus in the population, often several days ahead of the data from individual screening of human samples, Sciensano explained.

However, there is no question of replacing individual clinical testing with wastewater monitoring. "This is a warning system that supports a proactive health policy," the institute stressed. Its role would be to detect possible future phases of a resurgence of the epidemic.

"Infectious disease surveillance via wastewater monitoring is not new and has already demonstrated its role as an early warning system, especially for polio virus in the Netherlands," Sciensano added.

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Research and surveillance projects on wastewater had been initiated in the early months of the epidemic, notably by the Société publique de gestion de l'eau (SPGE) and E-biom, a spin-off of the University of Namur.

The Universities of Antwerp, Leuven and  Ghent, the Flemish Environment Agency and Aquafin, in collaboration with the Flemish Agency for Care and Health (Agentschap Zorg en Gezondheid), in Flanders have also conducted such projects.

With Belgium’s new monitoring system, which covers more than 40% of the Belgian population, a total of 42 wastewater samples are analysed twice a week, over a total period of two years, Sciensano said.

The choice of collection sites for the analysis of wastewater samples covers areas of higher population density, which present a higher risk of coronavirus transmission.

Three laboratories carry out these analyses using a common methodology. These are the Laboratory for Microbiology, Parasitology and Hygiene (LMPH) and the Toxicology Centre of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical, Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences of the UAntwerpen, E-biom, and the Food Pathogen Service of Sciensano.

The first results of the national surveillance of coronavirus in wastewater will be further analysed in the coming weeks, Sciensano concluded.

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