Colorado National Wastewater Surveillance System Center of Excellence
The Colorado National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS) Center of Excellence (CoE) is a collaboration between the University of Denver (DU) and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). Building on expertise in epidemiology, environmental chemistry, engineering, molecular diagnostics and genomic surveillance we provide industry-leading expertise and guidance. Wastewater surveillance is a key public health tool providing notification of increasing disease trends, especially when combined with existing disease surveillance systems. As a National Center of Excellence, we serve to foster scientific inquiry and public health response throughout the nation. Our team of nationally recognized experts in multi-disciplinary fields seeks to grow and develop this critical public health tool.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched the National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS) to build the nation’s capacity to track the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in wastewater samples collected across the country. DU and CDPHE were early adopters and together have become nationally recognized for wastewater surveillance. We work with health departments across the state and around the country to track communicable diseases in municipal wastewater discharge so communities can act quickly to prevent disease transmission and spread.
People infected with certain pathogens, like viruses, can shed virus in their feces, even if they don’t have symptoms. The virus can then be detected in wastewater, allowing wastewater surveillance to capture and quantify pathogens shed by people with and without symptoms. Wastewater surveillance can serve as an early warning that disease is spreading in a community. Once health departments are aware of increasing trends in wastewater concentrations in their jurisdiction, communities can act quickly to prevent the further spread of communicable diseases.
Data from wastewater testing are meant to complement existing disease surveillance systems by providing:
- An efficient community sample.
- Data for communities where timely clinical testing is underused or unavailable.
- Data for different communities within a county.
How Wastewater Surveillance Works
People infected with a pathogen can shed genetic material from a pathogen in their feces, and this can be detected in community wastewater. Wastewater, also referred to as sewage, includes water from household or building use (such as toilets, showers, and sinks) that can contain human fecal waste, as well as water from non-household sources (such as rain and industrial use).
- Wastewater from a sewer-shed (the community area served by a wastewater collection system) is collected as it flows into a treatment plant.
- The wastewater facility then sends samples to public health laboratories for testing.
- Health departments submit testing data to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through the online Data Collation and Integration for Public Health Event Response (DCIPHER) portal.
- The DCIPHER system analyzes the data and reports results to the health department for use in their public health response. The results are available to the public through CDC’s Data Tracker.
- Many states developed wastewater dashboards to help communities visualize trends.
The Value of Wastewater Surveillance
Wastewater surveillance captures the presence and amount of a particular pathogen shed by people with and without symptoms. By measuring pathogen levels in untreated wastewater over time, public health officials can determine if infections are increasing or decreasing in a sewer shed.
Wastewater surveillance can be an early indicator that the number of people with a specific pathogen in a community is increasing or decreasing.
Unlike other types of disease surveillance, wastewater surveillance does not depend on people having access to healthcare, people seeking healthcare when sick, or the availability of clinical testing.
Wastewater surveillance can be implemented in many communities since nearly 80 percent of U.S. households are served by municipal wastewater collection systems.
See how wastewater surveillance works in CDC’s infographic.