Challenges and Benefits of using RT-qPRC to Analyze for the SARS-CoV-2 Virus in Environmental Samples
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The global COVID-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of our communities, businesses and the economy.

Using existing technology, scientists can support efforts to combat this viral outbreak while a vaccine is being developed. SARS-CoV-2 (aka novel coronavirus) is the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease. The coronavirus is spread from person to person as an aerosol and by contact with contaminated surfaces. A single sneeze can produce up to 40,000 droplets of saliva with each carrying up to 2,000,000 coronavirus particles. When you do the math, the total delivery approaches 100 billion particles in a single sneeze from an infected person.

Genetics laboratories have been using Reverse Transcriptase-quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-qPCR) to analyze RNA for decades. Within the last year, this method has been modified to specifically analyze for the RNA of the novel coronavirus not only for clinical purposes but also for environmental samples. In efforts to return to work and stay safe while at work, the workplace is continually being disinfected. The CDC and EPA have developed guidelines which constitute the current but evolving standard of care for disinfection. The methods used for verifying that surfaces have been adequately disinfected range from “none” to “pH paper” to “adenosine triphosphate (ATP)” to the gold standard, “RT-qPCR”. RT-qPCR is the only method to definitively confirm that a surface has been adequately disinfected and that a disinfection contractor has effectively applied a disinfectant product.

It has also been determined that infected humans, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic, shed the novel coronavirus in their feces. Studies have shown that the novel coronavirus can remain detectable in wastewater for at least 48 hours and may be detected for longer than that. Recent efforts in Europe and the US have been able to successfully detect the novel coronavirus in waste water using RT-qPCR and use these data to track viral baselines in a community. When infection rates go up the viral loads go up. Most interesting is that increases in viral loads can be observed up to two weeks before infections are being reported in the community – because of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic infected individuals who shed viruses prior to displaying clinical symptoms. Communities can use these data to issue stay at home orders, social distancing guidelines, business operating practices, mask usage directives, gathering restrictions, and other actions that are intended to stem the transmission of the virus. The effect of these measures can be monitored by the virus concentration in wastewater as well as epidemiological and clinical data.

Publication Summary

  • Geosyntec Authors: Sam Williams, Duane Graves
  • All Authors: Sam Williams, Duane Graves
  • Title: 36th Annual International Conference on Soils, Sediments, Water, and Energy
  • Event or Publication: Event
  • Practice Areas: COVID-19 Services
  • Citation: Multiple Geosyntec practitioners will present at the virtual 36th Annual International Conference on Soils, Sediments, Water, and Energy on October 19-23, 2020.
  • Date: October 19-23, 2020
  • Location: Virtual
  • Publication Type: Platform Presentation