Longitudinal Fecal Shedding of SARS-CoV-2, Pepper Mild Mottle Virus, and Human Mitochondrial DNA in COVID-19 Patients

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Since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) has been widely applied in many countries and regions for monitoring COVID-19 transmission in the population through testing severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in wastewater. However, the lack of dynamic level of viral shedding in the wastewater and accurate number of infections in the community creates challenges in predicting COVID-19 prevalence in the population and interpreting WBE results. In this study, we measured SARS-CoV-2, pepper mild mottle virus (PMMoV), and human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in longitudinal fecal samples collected from 42 COVID-19 patients for up to 42 days after diagnosis. SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected in 73.1% (19/26) of inpatient study participants in at least one of the collected fecal specimens during the sampling period. Most participants shed the virus within three weeks after diagnosis, but five inpatient participants still shed the virus between 20 and 60 days after diagnosis. The median concentration of SARS-CoV-2 in positive fecal samples was 1.08x105 genome copies (GC)/gram dry fecal material. PMMoV and mtDNA were detected in 99.4% (154/155) and 100% (155/155) of all fecal samples, respectively. The median concentrations of PMMoV RNA and mtDNA in fecal samples were 1.73x107 and 2.49x108 GC/dry gram, respectively. These results provide important information about the dynamics of fecal shedding of SARS-CoV-2 and two human fecal indicators in COVID-19 patients. mtDNA showed higher positive rates, higher concentrations, and less variability between and within individuals than PMMoV, suggesting that mtDNA could be a better normalization factor for WBE results than PMMoV.

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