Department Urban Water Management

SARS-CoV-2 in Wastewater

Update (October 2020)

After an intense period of method development and data collection, we are happy to now provide:

  1. Near-real-time measurements for the two wastewater treatment plants, ARA Werdhölzli in Zürich and STEP de Vidy in Lausanne: graph for Zurich and graph for Lausanne
  2. Our protocols for sample preparation: ultrafiltration protocol and extraction protocol
  3. Answers to frequently asked questions (see link to FAQ)

Application of Wastewater-based Epidemiology to SARS-CoV-2 Detection: Project description (June 2020)

Wastewater provides potential insights into improved understanding of the disease burden and disease dynamics of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Although COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, a substantial portion of people shed signatures of the virus (RNA) in their feces. By collecting and analyzing wastewater samples for these signatures, we can determine whether or not, and to what extent, people within a wastewater treatment plant catchment area are infected with the virus. We may also be able to detect the virus circulating in communities via wastewater before clinical case data is available, due to the lag between symptoms and confirmed testing results.


Figure 1. At the beginning of the first wave, we collected samples from 12 wastewater treatment plants (green circles) and continued with Lausanne and Zurich. Samples from 19 large wastewater treatment plants (bold circles) would cover 2.5 million people.

In this study, we (the laboratories of Tim Julian and Christoph Ort, Eawag; Tamar Kohn and Xavier Fernandez Cassi, EPFL) are analyzing wastewater influent samples from Lausanne, Zurich, and Ticino for the presence and quantity of SARS-CoV-2 from the start of the outbreak (late February) to the present. We will integrate the data into models of disease trajectory, in hopes that we can contribute to insights about the disease in Switzerland. Furthermore, we will develop and improve methods for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 at very low concentrations to help develop and improve an early warning system for the emergence or re-emergence of the disease.