Pathogenic viruses represent one of the greatest threats to human well-being. As evidenced by the COVID-19 global pandemic, however, halting the spread of highly contagious diseases is notoriously difficult. Successful control strategies therefore have to rely on effective surveillance. Here, we describe how monitoring wastewater from urban areas can be used to detect the arrival and subsequent decline of pathogens, such as SARS-CoV-2. As the amount of virus shed in faeces and urine varies largely from person to person, it is very difficult to quantitatively determine the number of people who are infected in the population. More research on the surveillance of viruses in wastewater using accurate and validated methods, as well as subsequent risk analysis and modelling is paramount in understanding the dynamics of viral outbreaks.