Wastewater surveillance uncovers regional diversity and dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 variants across nine states in the USA

Rafaela S. Fontenele, Yiyan Yang, Erin M. Driver, Arjun Magge, Simona Kraberger, Joy M. Custer, Keith Dufault-Thompson, Erin Cox, Melanie Engstrom Newell, Arvind Varsani, Rolf U. Halden, Matthew Scotch, Xiaofang Jiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) is a non-invasive and cost-effective approach for monitoring the spread of a pathogen within a community. WBE has been adopted as one of the methods to monitor the spread and population dynamics of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but significant challenges remain in the bioinformatic analysis of WBE-derived data. Here, we have developed a new distance metric, CoVdist, and an associated analysis tool that facilitates the application of ordination analysis to WBE data and the identification of viral population changes based on nucleotide variants. We applied these new approaches to a large-scale dataset from 18 cities in nine states of the USA using wastewater collected from July 2021 to June 2022. We found that the trends in the shift between the Delta and Omicron SARS-CoV-2 lineages were largely consistent with what was seen in clinical data, but that wastewater analysis offered the added benefit of revealing significant differences in viral population dynamics at the state, city, and even neighborhood scales. We also were able to observe the early spread of variants of concern and the presence of recombinant lineages during the transitions between variants, both of which are challenging to analyze based on clinically-derived viral genomes. The methods outlined here will be beneficial for future applications of WBE to monitor SARS-CoV-2, particularly as clinical monitoring becomes less prevalent. Additionally, these approaches are generalizable, allowing them to be applied for the monitoring and analysis of future viral outbreaks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number162862
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Jun 15 2023


  • Coronavirus infectious disease 19 (COVID-19)
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)
  • Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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