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Monitoring SARS-CoV-2 circulation and diversity through community wastewater sequencing

By Ray W. Izquierdo Lara, Goffe Elsinga, Leo Heijnen, Bas B. Oude Munnink, Claudia M. E. Schapendonk, David Nieuwenhuijse, Matthijs Kon, Lu Lu, Frank M. Aarestrup, Samantha J Lycett, Gertjan Medema, Marion Koopmans, Miranda de Graaf

Posted 22 Sep 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.09.21.20198838

The current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has rapidly become a major global health problem for which public health surveillance is crucial to monitor virus spread. Given the presence of viral RNA in feces in around 40% of infected persons, wastewater-based epidemiology has been proposed as an addition to disease-based surveillance to assess the spread of the virus at the community level. Here we have explored the possibility of using next-generation sequencing (NGS) of sewage samples to evaluate the diversity of SARS-CoV-2 at the community level from routine wastewater testing, and compared these results with the virus diversity in patients from the Netherlands and Belgium. Phylogenetic analysis revealed the presence of viruses belonging to the most prevalent clades (19A, 20A and 20B) in both countries. Clades 19B and 20C were not identified, while they were present in clinical samples during the same period. Low frequency variant (LFV) analysis showed that some known LFVs can be associated with particular clusters within a clade, different to those of their consensus sequences, suggesting the presence of at least 2 clades within a single sewage sample. Additionally, combining genome consensus and LFV analyses we found a total of 57 unique mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 genome which have not been described before. In conclusion, this work illustrates how NGS analysis of wastewater can be used to approximate the diversity of SARS-CoV-2 viruses circulating in a community.

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