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Hub for Good

A large portion of COVID-19 patients shed the virus in their faecal matter, and thus the COVID-19 virus is present in sewage. Recent studies from Europe have shown that the RNA of the virus in wastewater can be detected much earlier than the first confirmed case in a community. Monitoring the virus levels in sewage, then, may provide an effective tool for not only understanding the prevalence of the disease in a community but also as an early warning surveillance tool.

Until a vaccine is found, COVID-19 is expected to come back in waves, and there is a need for noninvasive, inexpensive, accurate and easy to employ monitoring tools to effectively manage future outbreaks.

Led by Dr. Banu Örmeci, a Carleton Civil and Environmental Engineering professor, Jarislowsky Chair in Water and Global Health and director of the Carleton’s Global Water Institute, this research project aims to help develop an early warning system for COVID-19 that could alert public health authorities before an outbreak.

The early warning tool will be based on the COVID-19 RNA levels in sewage collected from different zones in the city. The geographic information on the spread and prevalence of the virus will enable identification of hot spots as targets for potential health and safety interventions, saving resources and lives.

Because a potential coronavirus vaccine is months—if not years—away, and because COVID-19 will likely come back in waves, there is a need for early warning tools, so we can stop outbreaks before they spike up. This research could lead to a successful non-invasive tool for COVID-19 surveillance and early warning monitoring. It could give us a very good idea about the prevalence of the disease in a community.

Dr. Banu Örmeci, Carleton Civil and Environmental Engineering professor, Jarislowsky Chair in Water and Global Health and director of the Carleton’s Global Water Institute

We have: a research team comprising individuals with expertise in environmental engineering, wastewater treatment and monitoring, microbiology, and molecular biology. We have the facilities and research infrastructure to effectively carry out this work.

We need: interested research partners, including treatment plants, municipalities, public health officials, epidemiologists, industrial partners and other stakeholders are invited to collaborate on this work.

The impact: The data from this study will contribute to a wastewater-based epidemiology model to effectively manage the next wave(s) of COVID-19, which can be adopted by other towns and cities in Canada as a tool for understanding the prevalence of the disease as well as an early warning surveillance tool.

Interested in learning more about this critical research? Join Dr. Örmeci and the Faculty of Engineering and Design on June 17 for Ingenious Talks Online: Monitoring Wastewater for Early Warning of Future COVID-19 Outbreaks.

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