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During the COVID-19 pandemic, wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) has proven to be an effective tool for monitoring the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in urban communities. However, low-cost, simple, and reliable wastewater sampling techniques are still needed to promote the widespread adoption of WBE in many countries. Since their first use for public health surveillance in the 1950s, many types of passive samplers have been proposed, however, there have been few systematic studies comparing their ability to co-capture enveloped viruses and bacteria. Here, we evaluated the laboratory and field performance of 8 passive sampler materials (NanoCeram, ZetaPlus, nylon and ion exchange membranes, cellulose acetate filters, glass wool, cotton-based Moore swabs and tampons) to capture viruses and bacteria from wastewater. Viral capture focused on SARS-CoV-2, the bacteriophage Phi6 and the faecal marker virus, crAssphage. We showed that the best performing passive sampler in terms of cost, ease of deployment and viral capture were the electronegative cotton-based swabs and tampons. We speculate that viral capture is a combination of trapping of particulate matter to which viruses are attached, as well as electrostatic attraction of viral particles from solution. When deployed at wastewater treatment plants, the passive samplers worked best up to 6 h, after which they became saturated or exhibited a loss of virus, probably due to night-time wash-out. The patterns of viral capture across the different sampling materials were similar providing evidence that they can be used to monitor multiple public health targets. The types of bacteria trapped by the passive samplers were material-specific, but possessed a different 16S rRNA gene profile to the wastewater, suggesting preferential retention of specific bacteria. We conclude that the choice of passive sampler and deployment time greatly influences the pattern and amount of viral and bacterial capture.


  • environmental monitoring, in situ sampling, public health surveillance, sewage network, viral capture method
Original languageEnglish
Article number3568
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 6 Nov 2022
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