Biology master's student Joud Abu Farah wins best poster at the Wastewater Surveillance Conference

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Joud Abu Farah holding award standing in front of her poster.

Biology master's student Joud Abu Farah won the best poster presentation award at the Wastewater Surveillance Conference in Toronto last week. She is developing a wastewater surveillance method for influenza A, B and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). 

Wastewater surveillance is the process of monitoring wastewater for contaminants. It's also an important tool for public health experts to track and monitor diseases to determine trends in the community and support mobilization of resources. During the pandemic, wastewater surveillance for COVID-19 was invaluable for monitoring trends and detecting outbreaks as early as possible.

Joud Abu Farah, from Dr. Mark Servos' lab, is trying to determine if the wastewater surveillance methodology that was effective for tracking COVID-19 can be applied to other detrimental respiratory viruses, such as influenza (A, B) and respiratory (RSV). If so, then she'll test its potential as a complementary public health surveillance tool.

Traditional influenza and RSV surveillance consists of monitoring clinical testing data and/or hospitalizations, which don't accurately reflect the true case count. The data is often an underestimate and there is a lag between detection and community spread. The advantage of wastewater surveillance is it detects symptomatic cases, asymptotic cases and individuals that do not get tested.

Abu Farah collected wastewater surveillance data for Influenza A, B and RSV from two areas, Kitchener and Waterloo. She processed the samples in the data using a various techniques. Next, she compared the wastewater surveillance data to confirmed influenza and RSV cases from clinical data and hospitalizations. She found the wastewater surveillance data correlated to the virus case counts, suggesting wastewater surveillance has good potential as a monitoring tool.

At the conference she presented her research using her poster "Method development of wastewater surveillance of influenza (A,B) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)" and won best poster presentation.

Next, she will conduct further correlational studies to clinical cases/hospitalizations, determine the limits of detection assay and investigate shedding characteristics of each virus.

The two-day in-person and virtual conference focused on recent scientific advancements in wastewater surveillance. The conference was hosted by Ontario's Wastewater Surveillance Initiative and Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson) and held in Toronto on February 2nd and 3rd.

Congratulations Joud Abu Farah!

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