Wastewater surveillance to monitor COVID-19 starts in Osaka Prefecture

On April 15, 2021, Hokkaido University and Shionogi & Co., Ltd. will start to monitor COVID-19 in Osaka Prefecture based on wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE), with the cooperation of the Prefectural Government.

Joint press release by Hokkaido University and Shionogi & Co., Ltd

The joint project aims to carry out quantification and genetic analysis (variant/mutation detection) of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in wastewater for understanding and predicting epidemics of COVID-19. The monitoring period is three months, from April 15 to June 14, 2021.

SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in the feces of a significant proportion of infected individuals.Research on WBE of SARS-CoV-2, which aims to acquire population-level epidemiological information by routine monitoring of the virus in wastewater, has been accelerating across the world. In some countries and regions in Europe and the United States, WBE has been implemented for early detection of COVID-19 epidemics, judgment of convergence, and confirmation of invasion/outbreak trends of variants with high infection/proliferation ability. Although the genetic material (RNA) of SARS-CoV-2 can be frequently detected in wastewater, the presence of infectious SARS-CoV-2 in influent wastewater at wastewater treatment plants has not yet been reported.

In Japan, there have been fewer reported cases of COVID-19 infection per capita compared to the United States and some European countries and regions, and therefore, for social implementation, the challenges had been to develop a virus detection method with increased sensitivity and an infrastructure with high-throughput PCR detection and genomic analysis. Hokkaido University and Shionogi have jointly developed a highly sensitive detection technology for SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater that can overcome these challenges, and have achieved automation of the detection process. 

This time, the collaborative team starts large-scale monitoring based on the cooperation of sample collection by Osaka Prefecture, by utilizing a highly sensitive virus detection method developed by Hokkaido University and Shionogi, and a high-throughput system for analyzing the viral load of collected wastewater and genomic information of the virus (variant detection), which was constructed by four parties including Robotic Biology Institute, Inc., and iLAC Co., Ltd.