Tracing the fate and infectivity of human pathogenic viruses through the environment
Investigating the origin and fate of human pathogenic viruses and AMR in the wastewater-freshwater-marine continuum
Viruses such as Norovirus (winter vomiting bug) and SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pose one of the biggest threats to human wellbeing being responsible for numerous infections and millions of deaths worldwide each year. Our understanding of the behaviour of human pathogenic viruses and antimicrobial resistance genes (ARGs) in the environment, however, remains poor. This is limiting our potential to protect human health both in terms of public health and environmental surveillance. In view of this, our team aims to develop new tools for the detection and surveillance of human pathogenic viruses and AMR in freshwater, estuarine and coastal environments as well as tracking their prevalence in the community (wastewater-based epidemiology; WBE). These tools will enable us to study the origin, diversity and fate of viral and ARG populations in both space and time. The information gathered in this project will be used to design new guidelines for assessing infection risk (e.g. in recreational waters, beaches & shellfisheries) and for protecting human health. Our national WBE project is monitoring the incidence of COVID-19 and other diseases in wastewater with the aim of capturing the number of infections at the community level in the UK.
The VIRAQUA and VIRAQUA II projects were funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) under the Environmental Microbiology and Human Health (EMHH) Programme (VIRAQUA I), NERC URGENCY programme (VIRAQUA II), Welsh Government, Defra and DHSC (VIRAQUA III). The Food Standards Agency are also supporting the PathSafe project looking at AMR and viral dispersal from healthcare facilities. Lastly, we have commenced the EU Horizon BlueAdapt project looking at viral and AMR dispersal in coastal environments. The national wastewater monitoring programme is now funded until the end of 2023 (jointly with Cardiff University, Arup, Public Health Wales, London Data Company and Welsh Water). This is part of the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, AMR strategic response and One Health agenda.