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Sci Total Environ ; : 160317, 2022 Nov 25.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-2235224


Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) complements the clinical surveillance of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and its variants' distribution in populations. Many developed nations have established national and regional WBE systems; however, governance and budget constraints could be obstacles for low- and middle-income countries. An urgent need thus exists to identify hotspots to serve as sentinel sites for WBE. We hypothesized that representative wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) in two international gateway cities, Bangkok and Phuket, Thailand, could be sentineled for SARS-CoV-2 and its variants to reflect the clinical distribution patterns at city level and serve as early indicators of new variants entering the country. Municipal wastewater samples (n = 132) were collected from eight representative municipal WWTPs in Bangkok and Phuket during 19 sampling events from October 2021 to March 2022, which were tested by reverse transcription-quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) using the US CDC N1 and N2 multiplex and variant (Alpha, Delta, and Omicron BA.1 and BA.2) singleplex assays. The variant detection ratios from Bangkok and Phuket followed similar trends to the national clinical testing data, and each variant's viral loads agreed with the daily new cases (3-d moving average). Omicron BA.1 was detected in Phuket wastewater prior to Bangkok, possibly due to Phuket's WWTPs serving tourist communities. We found that the Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 viral loads predominantly drove the SARS-CoV-2 resurgence. We also noted a shifting pattern in the Bangkok WBE from a 22-d early warning in early 2021 to a near real-time pattern in late 2021. The potential application of tourist hotspots for WBE to indicate the arrival of new variants and re-emerging or unprecedented infectious agents could support tourism-dependent economies by complementing the reduced clinical regulations while maintaining public health protection via wastewater surveillance.