Comparative Assessment of Filtration- and Precipitation-Based Methods for the Concentration of SARS-CoV-2 and Other Viruses from Wastewater

Kata Farkas, Cameron Pellett, Natasha Alex-Sanders, Matthew T.P. Bridgman, Alexander Corbishley, Jasmine M.S. Grimsley, Barbara Kasprzyk-Hordern, Jessica L. Kevill, Igor Pântea, India S. Richardson-O'Neill, Kathryn Lambert-Slosarska, Nick Woodhall, Davey L. Jones

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Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) has been widely used to track levels of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the rapid expansion of WBE, many methods have been used and developed for virus concentration and detection in wastewater. However, very little information is available on the relative performance of these approaches. In this study, we compared the performance of five commonly used wastewater concentration methods for the detection and quantification of pathogenic viruses (SARS-CoV-2, norovirus, rotavirus, influenza, and measles viruses), fecal indicator viruses (crAssphage, adenovirus, pepper mild mottle virus), and process control viruses (murine norovirus and bacteriophage Phi6) in laboratory spiking experiments. The methods evaluated included those based on either ultrafiltration (Amicon centrifugation units and InnovaPrep device) or precipitation (using polyethylene glycol [PEG], beef extract-enhanced PEG, and ammonium sulfate). The two best methods were further tested on 115 unspiked wastewater samples. We found that the volume and composition of the wastewater and the characteristics of the target viruses greatly affected virus recovery, regardless of the method used for concentration. All tested methods are suitable for routine virus concentration; however, the Amicon ultrafiltration method and the beef extract-enhanced PEG precipitation methods yielded the best recoveries. We recommend the use of ultrafiltration-based concentration for low sample volumes with high virus titers and ammonium levels and the use of precipitation-based concentration for rare pathogen detection in high-volume samples. IMPORTANCE As wastewater-based epidemiology is utilized for the surveillance of COVID-19 at the community level in many countries, it is crucial to develop and validate reliable methods for virus detection in sewage. The most important step in viral detection is the efficient concentration of the virus particles and/or their genome for subsequent analysis. In this study, we compared five different methods for the detection and quantification of different viruses in wastewater. We found that dead-end ultrafiltration and beef extract-enhanced polyethylene glycol precipitation were the most reliable approaches. We also discovered that sample volume and physico-chemical properties have a great effect on virus recovery. Hence, wastewater process methods and start volumes should be carefully selected in ongoing and future wastewater-based national surveillance programs for COVID-19 and beyond.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0110222
JournalMicrobiology Spectrum
Issue number4
Early online date11 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2022


  • enteric viruses
  • environmental virology
  • human respiratory viruses
  • public health surveillance
  • sewage concentration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Ecology
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Genetics
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology
  • Infectious Diseases


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