Water Res

. 2023 Sep 8;245:120594.
doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2023.120594. Online ahead of print. Development and application of influenza virus wastewater surveillance in Hong Kong

Xiawan Zheng 1 , Keyue Zhao 1 , Xiaoqing Xu 1 , Yu Deng 1 , Kathy Leung 2 , Joseph T Wu 2 , Gabriel M Leung 3 , Malik Peiris 4 , Leo L M Poon 4 , Tong Zhang 5


Wastewater surveillance is considered as a powerful tool in providing cost-effective, population-wide and near real-time surveillance results for controlling infectious diseases (i.e., SARS-CoV-2, influenza virus), complementary to clinical surveillance. To facilitate the utility of this emerging tool, we developed two preanalytical protocols (supernatant-based and pellet-based) for influenza A/B virus (IAV/IBV) wastewater surveillance and applied them to the established wastewater surveillance network for large-scale longitudinal monitoring in Hong Kong. We tested 724 wastewater samples from 24 stationary sites for weekly surveillance for 8 months and 458 wastewater samples from 11 wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) for more frequent (three times per week) city-wide surveillance for 4 months when influenza season commenced. We found the city-wide IAV virus concentration in wastewater were associated with the detection rate and influenza-like illness plus rates (ILI+) of clinical respiratory specimens and increased significantly after the cancelling of mask mandate that was in place for COVID-19. IBV was at low detection rates and low virus concentration levels, consistent with the low detection rates observed by clinical surveillance. In addition, we conducted virus subtype identification in selected wastewater samples, and observed the H1pdm was the major circulation subtype. Moreover, the obtained virus signals were confirmed by Sanger sequencing of PCR products, suggesting the feasibility and applicability of established methods for rapid detection of influenza virus types and subtypes in wastewater surveillance. This study demonstrates the applicability of IAV/IBV wastewater surveillance to current wastewater infrastructures and it could be used as a rapid and cost-effective surveillance strategy to track virus transmission patterns in the community for timely public health actions in the future.

Keywords: Influenza virus; PEG precipitation; RT-qPCR; Virus outbreak; Wastewater surveillance.