The report outlined what such a system might look like, noting that it should be able to track a variety of potential threats, which could include future coronavirus variants, flu viruses, antibiotic resistant bacteria and entirely new pathogens.
Some wastewater surveillance sites have already begun tracking additional pathogens, including the mpox virus and poliovirus, but a national system would require sustained federal funding and would need to be implemented equitably across regions and demographic groups, the report notes.
Ideally, the system would combine data collected from communities across the nation with monitoring of sewage at certain “sentinel sites,” such as large international airports and zoos, where new pathogens or variants might be spotted early.
People who are infected with the coronavirus shed the virus in their stool. Tracking levels of the virus in sewage provides health officials with a way to keep tabs on how prevalent the virus is in a community, even if people never seek testing or health care. It has become an especially valuable tool as coronavirus testing has shifted to the home, making official case counts less reliable.
Wastewater surveillance is not a novel idea; it has been used for decades to track polio, for instance. But it was not a widely used public health tool in the United States until the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Over the last few years, many localities and institutions created their own wastewater surveillance systems.