National Wastewater Surveillance System Center of Excellence

water worker

The University of Denver is proud to be designated a National Wastewater Surveillance System Center for Excellence by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This collaborative effort with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment puts the University at the forefront of early disease dedication and monitoring. The Spit Lab provides subject matter expertise, diagnostic testing and training for municipal water utilities across the state and region. The ability to quickly and effectively identify specific population areas with high disease transmission provides vital public health information and can aid in targeting and tailoring a specific response.

The CDC selected DU to serve as the national hub for wastewater surveillance based on our demonstrated expertise, and success. During the COVID-19 pandemic while testing capacity was limited the University turned to wastewater surveillance in residential halls to triage and prioritize testing. DU is one of two Centers of Excellence in the United States.

People infected with a communicable disease can shed the virus in their feces, even if they don’t have symptoms. The virus can then be detected in wastewater, enabling wastewater surveillance to capture presence of communicable diseases shed by people with and without symptoms. This allows wastewater surveillance to serve as an early warning that disease is spreading in a community. Once health departments are aware, communities can act quickly to prevent the further spread of.

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

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How Wastewater Surveillance Works

People infected with a communicable disease can shed viral RNA (genetic material from the virus) in their feces, and this RNA 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 samples are sent to public health laboratories such as the Spit Lab for testing.

  • Health departments submit testing data to CDC through the online Data Collation and Integration for Public Health Event Response (DCIPHER) portal.

  • The NDCIPHER 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.

National Wastewater Data

Statewide Wastewater Data

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Value of Wastewater Surveillance

  • Wastewater surveillance captures presence of disease shed by people with and without symptoms. By measuring disease levels in untreated wastewater over time, public health officials can determine if infections are increasing or decreasing in a sewershed.

  • Wastewater surveillance can be an early indicator that the number of people with a specific disease 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 availability of testing.

  • Wastewater surveillance can be implemented in many communities since nearly 80 percent of U.S. households are served by municipal wastewater collection systems.