BioZone BITS: What Can Wastewater Data Tell Us About COVID-19?

August 26, 2021 @ 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm
Sofia Bonilla

Dr. Syeda Tasneem Towhid, Post-Doctoral Fellow
Department of Civil Engineering, University of Ottawa


The emergence and circulation of SARS-CoV-2 in a population could be detected through surveying the municipal wastewater. This project presents the outcomes of the wastewater surveillance from Ottawa City, selected neighborhoods of Ottawa City and the University of Ottawa. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) was done targeting the N1 and N2 genes in the SARS-CoV-2 genome and the SARS-CoV-2 titre was normalized with reference to Pepper Mild Mottle Virus (PMMoV), the endogenous indicator of fecal discharge in sewage.

During the span of this project (April 2020-till date), we have been able to track the increase of the SARS-CoV-2 titre in the wastewater 48 hours before the reporting of the clinical cases and 96 hours before hospitalization from the community.   We have also been able to track the 2nd and 3rd wave from May 2020 to May 2021. We could detect the ɑ-variants from Ottawa municipal sewage since February, 2021 and determine the allelic frequencies of N1, D3 and D3L in wastewater. The sudden increases in wastewater titers around national holidays and festivals indicated periods of susceptibility for SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the communities. To sum it up, wastewater-based surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 is an early detection system that indicates the burden of COVID-19 in the population from both symptomatic and asymptomatic people.


Syeda Tasneem Towhid finished her Master of Science in Microbiology from University of Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2007 and obtained PhD from Eberhard Karls Universitaet Tuebingen, Germany in 2013 in clinical biology. She was employed as a surveillance officer during the avian influenza epidemic in Bangladesh in 2013 under projects conducted by the International Center of Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh. She joined as an assistant professor of Microbiology in Jagannath University, Dhaka, were her team reported the burden of critical drug-resistant bacteria from people with long-term hospitalization. She joined Prof. Robert Delatolla’s group in the Department of Civil Engineering, University of Ottawa in January, 2021, to assay the wastewater titer from First Nations and Vulnerable Communities from Ottawa City. She is also involved in community engagements and discussions to explain the importance of wastewater-based surveillances in controlling epidemics.


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