Increase in SARS-CoV-2 RNA levels in wastewater

The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) has flagged an increasing “volatility” in the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 RNA fragments in wastewater samples in recent weeks.

The SAMRC’s Wastewater Surveillance Programme operates a wastewater research and surveillance programme to detect early warning systems for COVID-19.

The team, with their laboratory and municipal partners, collects samples of wastewater weekly from more than 70 wastewater treatment plants across four provinces to test for non-infectious RNA fragments of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19.

According to the SAMRC’s Wastewater Surveillance Programme leader, Dr Mongezi Mdhluli, after nearly two months of being predominantly very low, the levels of SARS-CoV-2 RNA fragments in wastewater are now increasing.

“While the concentrations of the non-infectious SARS-CoV-2 RNA fragments remain low, relative to what we saw in wastewater at the height of the third COVID-19 wave, it is notable that the increasing volatility in viral fragment loads is now being observed at wastewater treatment plants in both urban and rural areas.”

This includes all provinces in which the SAMRC Wastewater Surveillance Programme is underway, namely the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Limpopo and Western Cape.

SAMRC President Professor Glenda Gray said the observation does not spell out the start of the fourth wave at this stage.

“We believe it is a signal to which we need to pay very close attention, especially when coupled with the increase in COVID-19 cases, as well as hospitalisations, that we have been seeing in recent days,” Gray explained.

The Professor has since urged people to vaccinate since the evidence shows that inoculation dramatically reduces COVID-19 disease, hospitalisation, death, and is the most powerful prevention measure citizens have right now.

“While we cannot at this point say that we are on the cusp of the fourth wave of COVID-19, it is nevertheless prudent for all South Africans to ensure that they and their loved ones become vaccinated as soon as possible and at the very least before the upcoming holiday season,” said Gray.

In addition, she said everyone has a role to play in curbing the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In this regard, vaccination and our behaviour are the main keys,” she said, encouraging all South Africans to increase their vigilance and adhere strictly to the simple but powerful, non-pharmaceutical COVID-19 prevention measures.

These include wearing a mask, using hand sanitiser, keeping a distance of at least 1.5 metres from others and avoiding gatherings.

In addition, when gatherings are unavoidable, they should be held in outdoor spaces or as many windows and doors as possible must be opened to increase ventilation when inside.

Source: South African Government News Agency