Wastewater Surveillance for Communicable Disease

( Last Updated : February 21, 2023)
Project Status:
Project Line:
Horizon Scan
Project Sub Line:
Emerging Health Technologies
Project Number:
Effective finish date:


The purpose of this report is to present health care stakeholders in Canada with an overview of information related to the use of  wastewater epidemiology, or wastewater surveillance, for the detection of viral and bacterial pathogens.

This report describes what wastewater surveillance is and how it works, summarizes the evidence regarding its use in Canada and internationally, and presents ethical considerations.

This report is not a systematic review and does not involve critical appraisal or include a detailed summary of study findings. It is not intended to provide recommendations for or against the use of the technology.

Key Message

This Horizon Scan summarizes the available information regarding wastewater epidemiology, or wastewater surveillance, for the detection of pathogens that cause communicable diseases.

Wastewater surveillance can detect the presence of pathogens or chemical substances within the wastewater system and allows for the monitoring of a broad population with a single sample.

Wastewater surveillance has been used for decades but has become more commonsince it was implemented around the world for the detection of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19. In Canada, wastewater surveillance is currently used for the detection of SARS-CoV-2, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus.

Studies conducted in Canada and internationally indicate that wastewater surveillance can be used as a reliable method for detecting pathogens at the population level.Future uses of wastewater surveillance may include monitoring of antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance, detection of cancers in the population, or assessing the prevalence of other infections within communities.