Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) RNA has been extensively detected in raw wastewater in studies exploring wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) for early warning purposes. Nonetheless, only a few limited studies investigated the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in treated wastewaters to determine the potential health risks across the water cycle. The detection of SARS-CoV-2 has been done mostly by RT-qPCR and ddPCR, which only provides information on the presence of nucleic acids rather than information on potential infectivity. In this study, we set to develop and evaluate the use of viability RT-qPCR for the selective discrimination and surveillance of infectious SARS-CoV-2 in secondary-treated wastewater. Enzymatic (nuclease) and viability dye (Reagent D) pretreatments were applied to infer infectivity through RT-qPCR using porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) as a CoV surrogate. Infectivity tests were first performed on PEDV purified RNA, then on infectious and heat-inactivated PEDV, and finally on heat inactivated PEDV spiked in concentrated secondary-treated wastewater. The two viability RT-qPCR methods were then applied to 27 secondary-treated wastewater samples positive for SARS-CoV-2 RNA at the outlet of five large urban wastewater treatment plants in Portugal. Reagent D pretreatment showed similar behavior to cell culture for heat-inactivated PEDV and both viability RT-qPCR methods performed comparably to VERO E6 cell culture for SARS-CoV-2 present in secondary-treated wastewater, eliminating completely the RT-qPCR signal. Our study demonstrated the lack of infectious SARS-CoV-2 viral particles on secondary-treated wastewater through the application of two pretreatment methods for the rapid inference of infectivity through RT-qPCR, showing their potential application in environmental screening. This study addressed a knowledge gap on the public health risks of SARS-CoV-2 across the water cycle.


Copyright © 2022 Elsevier B.V. This work has been made available online in accordance with publisher policies or with permission. Permission for further reuse of this content should be sought from the publisher or the rights holder. This is the author created accepted manuscript following peer review and may differ slightly from the final published version. The final published version of this work is available at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.152914.

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Monteiro, S., Rente, D., Cunha, M., Marques, T., Cardoso, E., Vilaça, J., Coelho, N., Brôco, N., Carvalho, M. & Santos, R. 2022, 'Discrimination and surveillance of infectious severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2 in wastewater using cell culture and RT-qPCR', Science of The Total Environment, 815, article no: 152914. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.152914

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Last updated: 10 January 2023
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