UBU expands wastewater virus tracking to influenza and HRV

UBU expands wastewater virus tracking to influenza and HRV

Two years after signing the collaboration agreement with Aguas de Burgos, the UBU Research Center on Emerging Pathogens continues its efforts to take advantage of the information that the city’s wastewater can offer.

The project’s founder, David Rodríguez, is clear that in the long term the data obtained and the trends or patterns they show can be used to set alerts that will ultimately prevent the spread of diseases. In his opinion, the periodic analyzes carried out with the permission of the municipal company responsible for the purification network should be consolidated as “a very interesting screening or continuous monitoring tool.”

To achieve this goal they are working from UBU, still in the initial stage of extensive sample collection and data acquisition.

And such is the desire to use the project that they expand the number of viruses that can be traced in urban sewers.

Therefore, influenza and RSV, the most common causes of respiratory pathology in children, have recently been added to Covid-19 (N1 and N2). “In addition to identifying them, we want to quantify them, which requires exact controls,” explained Rodríguez, to explain that the delay in the material needed for this work, which arrives from the US through the United Kingdom, these exams are delayed. in particular, that at the same time They were finally terminated.

In addition to the three respiratory viruses mentioned, UBU analyzes other enteric viruses, which are transmitted mainly through the oral-fecal route: hepatitis A and E, norovirus type 1 and type 2, astrovirus and rotavirus, the latter causes stomach ailments.

The ‘burgos’ bacterium does not and jumps from dogs to humans

What should have been a jug of cold water ended up being a very interesting find. And the bacteria believed to have been found for the first time in 2022 in the waste water of Burgos (actually named Staphylococcus burgalensis for this reason) turned out to be the same described a year and a half earlier in Scotland. , with the surname caledonicus.
“There is an error in the databases and we believe it is new, but they have already published an article about it, after it was found in various pets, mostly dogs,” said the director of the Center for Emerging Pathogens of UBU and head. of the project, David Rodríguez.
Because of this twist, the discovery of Burgos goes beyond what was first thought, because in addition to confirming the transfer of bacteria between dogs and people, the most unusual “and attractive from a scientific point of view” is that In that to jump. ‘ it acquired some genes and went from antibiotic sensitivity to resistance, “probably due to sharing information with other bacteria in our gut,” added the microbiologist.
This fact, which found a bacterium found in Scottish dogs in human feces in another part of the world and has become multiresistant, “proves the importance of having a concept of global health” which goes beyond the care of hospitals and health centers.
“The concept of One Health – of which Rodríguez is a strong defender – seeks to unite the different areas of human, animal and environmental health,” Rodríguez emphasized about this, satisfied with the unexpected practical lesson even part of a ‘local’ bacterium. .

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The second large group of pathogens studied is bacteria, especially enteric bacteria, such as Salmonella, Listeria, Staphylococcus aureus and Yersinia. However, the main challenge in this field is the development of knowledge about many resistant bacteria to antibiotics.

“We are tracking the genes instead of looking for the bacteria that carry them, because they are not specific to a species or family and if there is something that makes these resistances a terrible problem, these genes can can be transmitted horizontally, between ‘neighbors’ . ‘”, introduced the microbiologist, to emphasize that “no one until now has approached it in this way.” The first step to find out how these genes change is to take the DNA, which has already started, and sets a series of patterns.

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This is where UBU makes the difference. And where the advantages of working with waste water come into play, regardless of pathogen analysis, because “they allow information of a community nature to be used, in a proactive and non-invasive way .”

In other words, the population cooperates even without knowing it (in fact depositing their feces in the network), there are no tests required to collect samples and there is no need to go to the doctor and ask him more. tests to confirm the presence of viruses or bacteria.

“We can analyze in an unbiased way a picture of the city, more real than what is obtained by any other means, which allows us to better understand how different pathogens develop,” added the expert.

All, therefore, are advantages of a process whose ultimate goal is to improve public health. Like? “The data we collect can prevent the appearance of processes or outbreaks and make it easier for us to take protective or reactive measures, depending on the case,” answered Rodríguez.

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A calendar or a traffic light warning can even be defined to facilitate a collective response in practice.

Achieving this goal requires a first study full of sufficient data, more than what has been collected so far, the first data also ‘changed’ by the pandemic and the long-term obligation to wear mask. Thus, it will be interesting in the opinion of this UBU researcher if the agreement implemented in Aguas de Burgos will be extended after four years of signing. Trust that it will happen.


The analysis of the waste in Burgos revealed a small, even anecdotal, circulation of pathogens of bacterial origin such as Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus or Listeria. As for viruses, so far no trace of hepatitis A has been found and only a few positive samples for E have been found.
Another problem is respiratory: “In the case of SARS-CoV-2 we have a high count, not less than a thousand particles per liter, which reaches 10,000. The recent curve draws many clear peaks, one in November 2022 and another between March and April 2023, to decrease again and start to rebound in July, where we stopped the analysis to prepare the annual report.
The study of enteric viruses yielded, compared to the previous trend, an interesting discovery. And a similar behavior was found between norovirus type 2 – which causes the so-called 24-hour gastroenteritis – and SARS-CoV-2, with growth in November followed by a decline until January when it started it peaked in March.
In the case of rotavirus, which particularly affects minors, the peaks correspond to the return to classrooms after vacation periods.