Robert Delatolla


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Assessment of seasonality and normalization techniques for wastewater-based surveillance in Ontario, Canada
Hadi A. Dhiyebi, Jad Farah, Heather Ikert, Nivetha Srikanthan, Samina Hayat, Leslie M. Bragg, Asim Qasim, Mark Payne, Linda Kaleis, Caitlyn Paget, Dominika Celmer‐Repin, Arianne M. Folkema, Sarah Drew, Robert Delatolla, John P. Giesy, Mark R. Servos
Frontiers in Public Health, Volume 11

Introduction Wastewater-based surveillance is at the forefront of monitoring for community prevalence of COVID-19, however, continued uncertainty exists regarding the use of fecal indicators for normalization of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in wastewater. Using three communities in Ontario, sampled from 2021–2023, the seasonality of a viral fecal indicator (pepper mild mottle virus, PMMoV) and the utility of normalization of data to improve correlations with clinical cases was examined. Methods Wastewater samples from Warden, the Humber Air Management Facility (AMF), and Kitchener were analyzed for SARS-CoV-2, PMMoV, and crAssphage. The seasonality of PMMoV and flow rates were examined and compared by Season-Trend-Loess decomposition analysis. The effects of normalization using PMMoV, crAssphage, and flow rates were analyzed by comparing the correlations to clinical cases by episode date (CBED) during 2021. Results Seasonal analysis demonstrated that PMMoV had similar trends at Humber AMF and Kitchener with peaks in January and April 2022 and low concentrations (troughs) in the summer months. Warden had similar trends but was more sporadic between the peaks and troughs for PMMoV concentrations. Flow demonstrated similar trends but was not correlated to PMMoV concentrations at Humber AMF and was very weak at Kitchener ( r = 0.12). Despite the differences among the sewersheds, unnormalized SARS-CoV-2 (raw N1–N2) concentration in wastewater ( n = 99–191) was strongly correlated to the CBED in the communities ( r = 0.620–0.854) during 2021. Additionally, normalization with PMMoV did not improve the correlations at Warden and significantly reduced the correlations at Humber AMF and Kitchener. Flow normalization ( n = 99–191) at Humber AMF and Kitchener and crAssphage normalization ( n = 29–57) correlations at all three sites were not significantly different from raw N1–N2 correlations with CBED. Discussion Differences in seasonal trends in viral biomarkers caused by differences in sewershed characteristics (flow, input, etc.) may play a role in determining how effective normalization may be for improving correlations (or not). This study highlights the importance of assessing the influence of viral fecal indicators on normalized SARS-CoV-2 or other viruses of concern. Fecal indicators used to normalize the target of interest may help or hinder establishing trends with clinical outcomes of interest in wastewater-based surveillance and needs to be considered carefully across seasons and sites.

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Omicron COVID-19 Case Estimates Based on Previous SARS-CoV-2 Wastewater Load, Regional Municipality of Peel, Ontario, Canada
Lydia Cheng, Hadi A. Dhiyebi, Monali Varia, Kyle Atanas, Nivetha Srikanthan, Samina Hayat, Heather Ikert, Meghan Fuzzen, Carly Sing-Judge, Yash Badlani, Eli Zeeb, Leslie M. Bragg, Robert Delatolla, John P. Giesy, Elaine Gilliland, Mark R. Servos
Emerging Infectious Diseases, Volume 29, Issue 8

We determined correlations between SARS-CoV-2 load in untreated water and COVID-19 cases and patient hospitalizations before the Omicron variant (September 2020-November 2021) at 2 wastewater treatment plants in the Regional Municipality of Peel, Ontario, Canada. Using pre-Omicron correlations, we estimated incident COVID-19 cases during Omicron outbreaks (November 2021-June 2022). The strongest correlation between wastewater SARS-CoV-2 load and COVID-19 cases occurred 1 day after sampling (r = 0.911). The strongest correlation between wastewater load and COVID-19 patient hospitalizations occurred 4 days after sampling (r = 0.819). At the peak of the Omicron BA.2 outbreak in April 2022, reported COVID-19 cases were underestimated 19-fold because of changes in clinical testing. Wastewater data provided information for local decision-making and are a useful component of COVID-19 surveillance systems.

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An improved method for determining frequency of multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater using qPCR assays
Meghan Fuzzen, Nathanael B.J. Harper, Hadi A. Dhiyebi, Nivetha Srikanthan, Samina Hayat, Leslie M. Bragg, Shelley Peterson, Ivy Yang, Jianxian Sun, Elizabeth Edwards, John P. Giesy, Chand S. Mangat, Tyson E. Graber, Robert Delatolla, Mark R. Servos
Science of The Total Environment, Volume 881

Wastewater-based surveillance has become an effective tool around the globe for indirect monitoring of COVID-19 in communities. Variants of Concern (VOCs) have been detected in wastewater by use of reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) or whole genome sequencing (WGS). Rapid, reliable RT-PCR assays continue to be needed to determine the relative frequencies of VOCs and sub-lineages in wastewater-based surveillance programs. The presence of multiple mutations in a single region of the N-gene allowed for the design of a single amplicon, multiple probe assay, that can distinguish among several VOCs in wastewater RNA extracts. This approach which multiplexes probes designed to target mutations associated with specific VOC's along with an intra-amplicon universal probe (non-mutated region) was validated in singleplex and multiplex. The prevalence of each mutation (i.e. VOC) is estimated by comparing the abundance of the targeted mutation with a non-mutated and highly conserved region within the same amplicon. This is advantageous for the accurate and rapid estimation of variant frequencies in wastewater. The N200 assay was applied to monitor frequencies of VOCs in wastewater extracts from several communities in Ontario, Canada in near real time from November 28, 2021 to January 4, 2022. This includes the period of the rapid replacement of the Delta variant with the introduction of the Omicron variant in these Ontario communities in early December 2021. The frequency estimates using this assay were highly reflective of clinical WGS estimates for the same communities. This style of qPCR assay, which simultaneously measures signal from a non-mutated comparator probe and multiple mutation-specific probes contained within a single qPCR amplicon, can be applied to future assay development for rapid and accurate estimations of variant frequencies.

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Realizing the value in “non-standard” parts of the qPCR standard curve by integrating fundamentals of quantitative microbiology
Philip J. Schmidt, Nicole Acosta, Alex H. S. Chik, Patrick M. D’Aoust, Robert Delatolla, Hadi A. Dhiyebi, Melissa B. Glier, Casey R.J. Hubert, Jennifer Kopetzky, Chand S. Mangat, Xiaoli Pang, Shelley Peterson, Natalie Prystajecky, Yuanyuan Qiu, Mark R. Servos, Monica B. Emelko
Frontiers in Microbiology, Volume 14

The real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR), commonly known as quantitative PCR (qPCR), is increasingly common in environmental microbiology applications. During the COVID-19 pandemic, qPCR combined with reverse transcription (RT-qPCR) has been used to detect and quantify SARS-CoV-2 in clinical diagnoses and wastewater monitoring of local trends. Estimation of concentrations using qPCR often features a log-linear standard curve model calibrating quantification cycle (Cq) values obtained from underlying fluorescence measurements to standard concentrations. This process works well at high concentrations within a linear dynamic range but has diminishing reliability at low concentrations because it cannot explain "non-standard" data such as Cq values reflecting increasing variability at low concentrations or non-detects that do not yield Cq values at all. Here, fundamental probabilistic modeling concepts from classical quantitative microbiology were integrated into standard curve modeling approaches by reflecting well-understood mechanisms for random error in microbial data. This work showed that data diverging from the log-linear regression model at low concentrations as well as non-detects can be seamlessly integrated into enhanced standard curve analysis. The newly developed model provides improved representation of standard curve data at low concentrations while converging asymptotically upon conventional log-linear regression at high concentrations and adding no fitting parameters. Such modeling facilitates exploration of the effects of various random error mechanisms in experiments generating standard curve data, enables quantification of uncertainty in standard curve parameters, and is an important step toward quantifying uncertainty in qPCR-based concentration estimates. Improving understanding of the random error in qPCR data and standard curve modeling is especially important when low concentrations are of particular interest and inappropriate analysis can unduly affect interpretation, conclusions regarding lab performance, reported concentration estimates, and associated decision-making.


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Community Surveillance of Omicron in Ontario: Wastewater-based Epidemiology Comes of Age.
Authors presented in alphabetical order:, Jos Arts, R. Stephen Brown, David Bulir, Trevor C. Charles, Christopher T. DeGroot, Robert Delatolla, Jean‐Paul Desaulniers, Elizabeth A. Edwards, Meghan Fuzzen, Kimberley Gilbride, Jodi Gilchrist, Lawrence Goodridge, Tyson E. Graber, Marc Habash, Peter Jüni, Andrea E. Kirkwood, James Knockleby, Christopher J. Kyle, Chrystal Landgraff, Chand S. Mangat, Douglas Manuel, R. Michael L. McKay, Edgard M. Mejia, Aleksandra Mloszewska, Banu Örmeci, Claire J. Oswald, Sarah Jane Payne, Hui Peng, Shelley Peterson, Art F. Y. Poon, Mark R. Servos, Denina Simmons, Jianxian Sun, Minqing Ivy Yang, Gustavo Ybazeta

Abstract Wastewater-based surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 RNA has been implemented at building, neighbourhood, and city levels throughout the world. Implementation strategies and analysis methods differ, but they all aim to provide rapid and reliable information about community COVID-19 health states. A viable and sustainable SARS-CoV-2 surveillance network must not only provide reliable and timely information about COVID-19 trends, but also provide for scalability as well as accurate detection of known or unknown emerging variants. Emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern Omicron in late Fall 2021 presented an excellent opportunity to benchmark individual and aggregated data outputs of the Ontario Wastewater Surveillance Initiative in Canada; this public health-integrated surveillance network monitors wastewaters from over 10 million people across major population centres of the province. We demonstrate that this coordinated approach provides excellent situational awareness, comparing favourably with traditional clinical surveillance measures. Thus, aggregated datasets compiled from multiple wastewater-based surveillance nodes can provide sufficient sensitivity (i.e., early indication of increasing and decreasing incidence of SARS-CoV-2) and specificity (i.e., allele frequency estimation of emerging variants) with which to make informed public health decisions at regional- and state-levels.

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Multiplex RT-qPCR assay (N200) to detect and estimate prevalence of multiple SARS-CoV-2 Variants of Concern in wastewater
Meghan Fuzzen, Nathanael B.J. Harper, Hadi A. Dhiyebi, Nivetha Srikanthan, Samina Hayat, Shelley Peterson, Ivy Yang, Jianxian Sun, Elizabeth A. Edwards, John P. Giesy, Chand S. Mangat, Tyson E. Graber, Robert Delatolla, Mark R. Servos

Abstract Wastewater-based surveillance (WBS) has become an effective tool around the globe for indirect monitoring of COVID-19 in communities. Quantities of viral fragments of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater are related to numbers of clinical cases of COVID-19 reported within the corresponding sewershed. Variants of Concern (VOCs) have been detected in wastewater by use of reverse transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) or sequencing. A multiplex RT-qPCR assay to detect and estimate the prevalence of multiple VOCs, including Omicron/Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta, in wastewater RNA extracts was developed and validated. The probe-based multiplex assay, named “N200” focuses on amino acids 199-202, a region of the N gene that contains several mutations that are associated with variants of SARS- CoV-2 within a single amplicon. Each of the probes in the N200 assay are specific to the targeted mutations and worked equally well in single- and multi-plex modes. To estimate prevalence of each VOC, the abundance of the targeted mutation was compared with a non- mutated region within the same amplified region. The N200 assay was applied to monitor frequencies of VOCs in wastewater extracts from six sewersheds in Ontario, Canada collected between December 1, 2021, and January 4, 2022. Using the N200 assay, the replacement of the Delta variant along with the introduction and rapid dominance of the Omicron variant were monitored in near real-time, as they occurred nearly simultaneously at all six locations. The N200 assay is robust and efficient for wastewater surveillance can be adopted into VOC monitoring programs or replace more laborious assays currently being used to monitor SARS- CoV-2 and its VOCs.

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Wastewater to clinical case (WC) ratio of COVID-19 identifies insufficient clinical testing, onset of new variants of concern and population immunity in urban communities
Patrick M. D’Aoust, Xin Tian, Syeda Tasneem Towhid, Amy Xiao, Élisabeth Mercier, Nada Hegazy, Jianjun Jia, Shungang Wan, Md Pervez Kabir, Wanting Fang, Meghan Fuzzen, Maria E. Hasing, Minqing Ivy Yang, Jianxian Sun, Julio Plaza‐Díaz, Zhihao Zhang, Aaron Cowan, Walaa Eid, Sean E. Stephenson, Mark R. Servos, Matthew J. Wade, Alex MacKenzie, Hui Peng, Elizabeth A. Edwards, Xiaoli Pang, Eric J. Alm, Tyson E. Graber, Robert Delatolla
Science of The Total Environment, Volume 853

Clinical testing has been the cornerstone of public health monitoring and infection control efforts in communities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. With the anticipated reduction of clinical testing as the disease moves into an endemic state, SARS-CoV-2 wastewater surveillance (WWS) will have greater value as an important diagnostic tool. An in-depth analysis and understanding of the metrics derived from WWS is required to interpret and utilize WWS-acquired data effectively (McClary-Gutierrez et al., 2021; O'Keeffe, 2021). In this study, the SARS-CoV-2 wastewater signal to clinical cases (WC) ratio was investigated across seven cities in Canada over periods ranging from 8 to 21 months. This work demonstrates that significant increases in the WC ratio occurred when clinical testing eligibility was modified to appointment-only testing, identifying a period of insufficient clinical testing (resulting in a reduction to testing access and a reduction in the number of daily tests) in these communities, despite increases in the wastewater signal. Furthermore, the WC ratio decreased significantly in 6 of the 7 studied locations, serving as a potential signal of the emergence of the Alpha variant of concern (VOC) in a relatively non-immunized community (40-60 % allelic proportion), while a more muted decrease in the WC ratio signaled the emergence of the Delta VOC in a relatively well-immunized community (40-60 % allelic proportion). Finally, a significant decrease in the WC ratio signaled the emergence of the Omicron VOC, likely because of the variant's greater effectiveness at evading immunity, leading to a significant number of new reported clinical cases, even when community immunity was high. The WC ratio, used as an additional monitoring metric, could complement clinical case counts and wastewater signals as individual metrics in its potential ability to identify important epidemiological occurrences, adding value to WWS as a diagnostic technology during the COVID-19 pandemic and likely for future pandemics.

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Metagenomics of Wastewater Influent from Wastewater Treatment Facilities across Ontario in the Era of Emerging SARS-CoV-2 Variants of Concern
Opeyemi U Lawal, Linkang Zhang, Valeria R. Parreira, R. Stephen Brown, Charles Chettleburgh, Nora Dannah, Robert Delatolla, Kimberly A. Gilbride, Tyson E. Graber, Golam Islam, James Knockleby, Siying Ma, Hanlan McDougall, R. Michael L. McKay, Aleksandra Mloszewska, Claire J. Oswald, Mark R. Servos, Megan Swinwood-Sky, Gustavo Ybazeta, Marc Habash, Lawrence Goodridge
Microbiology Resource Announcements, Volume 11, Issue 7

We report metagenomic sequencing analyses of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) RNA in composite wastewater influent from 10 regions in Ontario, Canada, during the transition between Delta and Omicron variants of concern. The Delta and Omicron BA.1/BA.1.1 and BA.2-defining mutations occurring in various frequencies were reported in the consensus and subconsensus sequences of the composite samples.


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Comparison of approaches to quantify SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater using RT-qPCR: Results and implications from a collaborative inter-laboratory study in Canada
Alex H. S. Chik, Melissa B. Glier, Mark R. Servos, Chand S. Mangat, Xiaoli Pang, Yuanyuan Qiu, Patrick M. D’Aoust, Jean-Baptiste Burnet, Robert Delatolla, Sarah Dorner, Qiudi Geng, John P. Giesy, R. Michael L. McKay, Michael R. Mulvey, Natalie Prystajecky, Nivetha Srikanthan, Yuwei Xie, Bernadette Conant, Steve E. Hrudey
Journal of Environmental Sciences, Volume 107

Detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater is a promising tool for informing public health decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, approaches for its analysis by use of reverse transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) are still far from standardized globally. To characterize inter- and intra-laboratory variability among results when using various methods deployed across Canada, aliquots from a real wastewater sample were spiked with surrogates of SARS-CoV-2 (gamma-radiation inactivated SARS-CoV-2 and human coronavirus strain 229E [HCoV-229E]) at low and high levels then provided "blind" to eight laboratories. Concentration estimates reported by individual laboratories were consistently within a 1.0-log10 range for aliquots of the same spiked condition. All laboratories distinguished between low- and high-spikes for both surrogates. As expected, greater variability was observed in the results amongst laboratories than within individual laboratories, but SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentration estimates for each spiked condition remained mostly within 1.0-log10 ranges. The no-spike wastewater aliquots provided yielded non-detects or trace levels (<20 gene copies/mL) of SARS-CoV-2 RNA. Detections appear linked to methods that included or focused on the solids fraction of the wastewater matrix and might represent in-situ SARS-CoV-2 to the wastewater sample. HCoV-229E RNA was not detected in the no-spike aliquots. Overall, all methods yielded comparable results at the conditions tested. Partitioning behavior of SARS-CoV-2 and spiked surrogates in wastewater should be considered to evaluate method effectiveness. A consistent method and laboratory to explore wastewater SARS-CoV-2 temporal trends for a given system, with appropriate quality control protocols and documented in adequate detail should succeed.

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Near real-time determination of B.1.1.7 in proportion to total SARS-CoV-2 viral load in wastewater using an allele-specific primer extension PCR strategy
Tyson E. Graber, Kamya Bhatnagar, Élisabeth Mercier, Meghan Fuzzen, Patrick M. D’Aoust, Huy-Dung Hoang, Xin Tian, Syeda Tasneem Towhid, Julio Plaza Diaz, Tommy Alain, Ainslie Butler, Lawrence Goodridge, Mark R. Servos, Robert Delatolla

Abstract The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has claimed millions of lives to date. Antigenic drift has resulted in viral variants with putatively greater transmissibility, virulence, or both. Early and near real-time detection of these variants of concern (VOC) and the ability to accurately follow their incidence and prevalence in communities is wanting. Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE), which uses nucleic acid amplification tests to detect viral fragments, is a faithful proxy of COVID-19 incidence and prevalence, and thus offers the potential to monitor VOC viral load in a given population. Here, we describe and validate a primer extension PCR strategy targeting a signature mutation in the N gene of SARS-CoV-2. This allows quantification of the proportional expression of B.1.1.7 versus non-B.1.1.7 alleles in wastewater without the need to employ quantitative RT-PCR standard curves. We show that the wastewater B.1.1.7 profile correlates with its clinical counterpart and benefits from a near real-time and facile data collection and reporting pipeline. This assay can be quickly implemented within a current SARS-CoV-2 WBE framework with minimal cost; allowing early and contemporaneous estimates of B.1.1.7 community transmission prior to, or in lieu of, clinical screening and identification. Our study demonstrates that this strategy can provide public health units with an additional and much needed tool to rapidly triangulate VOC incidence/prevalence with high sensitivity and lineage specificity.

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Quantitative analysis of SARS-CoV-2 RNA from wastewater solids in communities with low COVID-19 incidence and prevalence
Patrick M. D’Aoust, Élisabeth Mercier, Danika Montpetit, Jian Jun Jia, Ilya Alexandrov, Nafisa Neault, Aiman Tariq Baig, Janice Mayne, Xu Zhang, Tommy Alain, Marc André Langlois, Mark R. Servos, Malcolm R. MacKenzie, Daniel Figeys, Alex MacKenzie, Tyson E. Graber, Robert Delatolla
Water Research, Volume 188

• RT-ddPCR is more sensitive to inhibitors than RT-qPCR for primary clarified sludge. • Primary clarified sludge has elevated frequency of SARS-CoV-2 RNA detection. • Primary clarified sludge allows detection of RNA during low COVID-19 incidence. • PMMoV normalization of RNA data reduces noise and increases precision. • PMMoV normalization of RNA shows strongest correlation to epidemiological metrics. In the absence of an effective vaccine to prevent COVID-19 it is important to be able to track community infections to inform public health interventions aimed at reducing the spread and therefore reduce pressures on health-care, improve health outcomes and reduce economic uncertainty. Wastewater surveillance has rapidly emerged as a potential tool to effectively monitor community infections through measuring trends of RNA signal in wastewater systems. In this study SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA N1 and N2 gene regions are quantified in solids collected from influent post grit solids (PGS) and primary clarified sludge (PCS) in two water resource recovery facilities (WRRF) serving Canada's national capital region, i.e., the City of Ottawa, ON (pop. ≈ 1.1M) and the City of Gatineau, QC (pop. ≈ 280K). PCS samples show signal inhibition using RT-ddPCR compared to RT-qPCR, with PGS samples showing similar quantifiable concentrations of RNA using both assays. RT-qPCR shows higher frequency of detection of N1 and N2 gene regions in PCS (92.7, 90.6%, n = 6) as compared to PGS samples (79.2, 82.3%, n = 5). Sampling of PCS may therefore be an effective approach for SARS-CoV-2 viral quantification, especially during periods of declining and low COVID-19 incidence in the community. The pepper mild mottle virus (PMMoV) is determined to have a less variable RNA signal in PCS over a three month period for two WRRFs, regardless of environmental conditions, compared to Bacteroides 16S rRNA or human 18S rRNA, making PMMoV a potentially useful biomarker for normalization of SARS-CoV-2 signal. PMMoV-normalized PCS RNA signal from WRRFs of two cities correlated with the regional public health epidemiological metrics, identifying PCS normalized to a fecal indicator (PMMoV) as a potentially effective tool for monitoring trends during decreasing and low-incidence of infection of SARS-Cov-2 in communities.

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Catching a resurgence: Increase in SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA identified in wastewater 48 h before COVID-19 clinical tests and 96 h before hospitalizations
Patrick M. D’Aoust, Tyson E. Graber, Élisabeth Mercier, Danika Montpetit, Ilya Alexandrov, Nafisa Neault, Aiman Tariq Baig, Janice Mayne, Xu Zhang, Tommy Alain, Mark R. Servos, Nivetha Srikanthan, Malcolm R. MacKenzie, Daniel Figeys, Manuel Dujovny, Peter Jüni, Alex MacKenzie, Robert Delatolla
Science of The Total Environment, Volume 770

Curtailing the Spring 2020 COVID-19 surge required sweeping and stringent interventions by governments across the world. Wastewater-based COVID-19 epidemiology programs have been initiated in many countries to provide public health agencies with a complementary disease tracking metric and non-discriminating surveillance tool. However, their efficacy in prospectively capturing resurgences following a period of low prevalence is unclear. In this study, the SARS-CoV-2 viral signal was measured in primary clarified sludge harvested every two days at the City of Ottawa's water resource recovery facility during the summer of 2020, when clinical testing recorded daily percent positivity below 1%. In late July, increases of >400% in normalized SARS-CoV-2 RNA signal in wastewater were identified 48 h prior to reported >300% increases in positive cases that were retrospectively attributed to community-acquired infections. During this resurgence period, SARS-CoV-2 RNA signal in wastewater preceded the reported >160% increase in community hospitalizations by approximately 96 h. This study supports wastewater-based COVID-19 surveillance of populations in augmenting the efficacy of diagnostic testing, which can suffer from sampling biases or timely reporting as in the case of hospitalization census.