Emma R. Germano, Tiffany Flores, Grace S. Freed, Kang Kim, Grace H. Tulinsky, Annie Yang, Oliver J. Rose, Caroline A. Ray, April Autry, Marina Catallozzi, Brian J. Mailloux, JJ L. Miranda

Building-level wastewater surveillance localizes interseasonal influenza variation

  • Molecular Biology
  • Microbiology

ABSTRACT Influenza virus poses a recurring threat to public health and infects many populations in annual waves of generally unpredictable magnitude and timing. We aimed to detect the arrival and estimate the case magnitude of seasonal influenza A in urban New York City college dormitory buildings. Our wastewater-based surveillance (WBS) program measured viral RNA in the sewage outflow of three dormitories at Barnard College in 2021 and 2022. Wastewater test positivity strongly correlated with New York County clinical cases (Kendall’s τ = 0.58). Positive wastewater samples are also associated with campus clinical cases. The 2022 data stand in stark contrast to the 2021 results by revealing the more frequent and earlier presence of influenza A. The increase in positive tests is significant ( P < 0.01). It is further noteworthy that positive samples were not evenly distributed among buildings. Surveillance additionally identified the influenza A H3 subtype but did not detect any influenza B. We also systematically analyzed our viral purification protocol to identify in which fraction influenza can be found. While virus can be found in solid fractions, a substantial quantity remains in the final liquid fraction. Our work focuses on individual buildings rather than larger sewersheds because buildings may localize interseasonal influenza variation to specific subpopulations. Our results highlight the potential value of building-level WBS in measuring influenza incidence to help guide public health intervention. IMPORTANCE Seasonal influenza remains a major public health burden. We monitored influenza A in dormitory wastewater of a New York City college in 2021 and 2022. Longitudinal samples acquired over consecutive years allowed measurement of individual buildings between seasons. We uncovered building-level changes in the magnitude and timing of test positivity concordant with clinical cases. Surveillance also localized the heterogeneity of influenza variation during the large 2022 seasonal surge. The ability to detect such changes could be leveraged as part of a public health response.

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