Journal of Water & Health has created a new section of the journal, focusing on Wastewater-Based Epidemiology. We spoke to Professor Nicholas Ashbolt and Dr. Matthew Wade about this exciting addition ahead of it's launch at WaterMicro23, the 21st International Symposium on Health-Related Water Microbiology.

Why are you launching a WBE Section?

Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) or more generally, surveillance has been undertaken spasmodically over the last few decades, but COVID-19 management highlighted its benefits and focused the research and public health community’s attention to its larger potential. With the environment being the last major pillar of the One-Health approach to be integrated with human and animal/plant health, it is only logical to embrace WBE in it many applications and ongoing developments as a major theme in the Journal of Water and Health.

Who do you hope will be involved?

We are looking to solicit contributions from a broad range of stakeholders active in WBE, recipients of data generated from wastewater surveillance, or with an interest in how WBE can be leveraged to provide value in their field (e.g., public health practitioners, decision-makers, policy professionals). The journal encourages contributions from wastewater specialists including engineers, modellers, analytical and data scientists, as well as researchers and practitioners working in epidemiology, public health (policy and practice) and animal and plant disease control.

What types of articles can readers expect?

Research papers, literature reviews, mini-reviews, short perspective papers, case studies (including meta-analysis of case studies) are all welcome. However, we would expect to see many contributions that report on practical developments in WBE, innovation in methodologies and technologies, and research and commentaries that address core challenges to the utility and value of WBE.

What sort of impact will the WBE section have in the water industry?

Wastewater-based Epidemiology has undergone substantial growth in recent years, largely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the advancement of molecular methodologies. As research and practice has developed the art of the possible, there is now a greater awareness of the potential of wastewater monitoring as a tool to tackle both extant and emergent hazards to human, animal, and environmental health. With the water industry and academia being key partners and deliverers of WBE functions (e.g., in response to the pandemic, efficacy of mitigation measures, etc.), the ambition for this new section is to promote, enable, and enhance the field of WBE across the water sector and facilitating knowledge integration with public health and more broadly, One-Health approaches . Ultimately, we see the Journal of Water & Health: WBE Section as a home for keystone research and communication. An important goal is to facilitate trans-disciplinary thinking and engagement, and providing a reference point for those pursuing careers where WBE is directly or indirectly utilized.

What new trends or areas of research are you particularly excited to share in the new section?

As the pandemic has fostered a rapidly growing WBE industry with an inordinate amount of research published that describe its use, so to have a disparate range of challenges and gaps emerged. We anticipate that these gaps will be the focus of the research communities in the coming months and years and look forward to publishing leading output in the WBE section. Some of the key areas we anticipate receiving substantial attention include:

  • WBE fingerprinting - towards combining data and metadata from multiple ‘signifiers’ of health/behaviour at a systems scale (e.g., a One Health ecosystem)
  • Ethical and equitable approaches to WBE, especially addressing specific opportunities and challenges in under-represented and under-resource communities
  • Public Health Policy and WBE – how do we address the disjoint between established public health surveillance systems and the emerging potential of WBE?


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