Edinburgh Infectious Diseases
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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.

Water running away to a drain
Surveillance of sewage water provided crucial information about disease spread during the pandemic.

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.

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 from the School of Biological Sciences, the Roslin Institute, and the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, collaborated with colleagues from Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency – 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.

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 ScorzaPostdoctoral Research Associate, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh

Tracking infections

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.

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).

Read the paper:

SARS-CoV-2 RNA levels in Scotland’s wastewater; Scorza et al 2022

Related Links

School of Biological Sciences

Millar Lab 

Roslin Institute

Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland

Scottish Environment Protection Agency