Biological Sciences

Scotland’s Covid-19 sewage data could reveal new health insights

Data from Scotland’s Covid-19 Wastewater Programme could offer future insights into the pandemic, its long-term health impacts and help tackle other viruses.

University of Edinburgh researchers and collaborators have published the datasets and analysis methods used to track the levels of Covid-19 infection in Scotland, by monitoring virus levels in the sewage system.

The open access data will allow in-depth analysis of past surges and declines in Covid-19, enabling scientists to explore how government actions and policies have impacted community infection levels, and improve the management of future outbreaks.

Graphic illustration of coronavirus

The data could also lead to new insights into the long-term effects of Covid-19, allowing health professionals to pinpoint surges in medical conditions in areas highly affected by the virus.

Experts hope that the detailed methods accompanying the dataset could help to kick start similar surveillance programmes for coronavirus or other viruses around the world.

Edinburgh researchers collaborated with the programme – collecting and analysing the data and  ensuring it is preserved, openly available and easily reused or replicated in future studies.

The team created an online dashboard to centralise the information, with links to the programme’s outputs and to the online resources where the data is published.

Since the start of the pandemic, levels of the virus shed into to sewage systems by infected people have been used to estimate daily cases of Covid-19 around the world.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and Scottish Water have been monitoring levels of the virus in the Scottish sewage network since May 2020 – gathering data in over 100 locations.

The ongoing, nationwide programme analyses virus levels using PCR tests and includes several analytical steps after the collection of wastewater samples.

The location of the sample sites, collection and analysis dates, population size in the catchment area and wastewater flow rates are also used to estimate Covid-19 spread in the population.

This is a great example of how open datasets are important and can help accelerate new discoveries. Making sure the data is not just available but also easy to reuse, is equally or even more important.

Dr Livia ScorzaLead author, Postdoctoral Research Associate, School of Biological Sciences

The study, published in Scientific Data, was funded by Scotland’s Centre of Expertise for Waters (CREW) and Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). The research was carried out in partnership with Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland (BioSS).

Related Links

Journal paper: SARS-CoV-2 RNA levels in Scotland’s wastewater

COVID Wastewater Scotland- online dashboard

CREW Report- Sars-cov-2 monitoring Scottish wastewater