Tommy Alain


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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.