Evaluating the sensitivity of droplet digital PCR for the quantification of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater

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Wastewater surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 has been demonstrated to be a valuable tool in monitoring community-level virus circulation and assessing new outbreaks. It may become a useful tool in the early detection and response to future pandemics, enabling public health authorities to implement timely interventions and mitigate the spread of infectious diseases with the fecal excretion of their agents. It also offers a chance for cost-effective surveillance. Reverse transcription-quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RTqPCR) is the most commonly used method for viral RNA detection in wastewater due to its sensitivity, reliability, and widespread availability. However, recent studies have indicated that reverse transcription droplet digital PCR (RTddPCR) has the potential to offer improved sensitivity and accuracy for quantifying SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater samples. In this study, we compared the performance of RTqPCR and RTddPCR approaches for SARS-CoV-2 detection and quantification on wastewater samples collected during the third epidemic wave in Saxony, Germany, characterized by low-incidence infection periods. The determined limits of detection (LOD) and quantification (LOQ) were within the same order of magnitude, and no significant differences were observed between the PCR approaches with respect to the number of positive or quantifiable samples. Our results indicate that both RTqPCR and RTddPCR are highly sensitive methods for detecting SARS-CoV-2. Consequently, the actual gain in sensitivity associated with ddPCR lags behind theoretical expectations. Hence, the choice between the two PCR methods in further environmental surveillance programs is rather a matter of available resources and throughput requirements.


Original languageEnglish
Article number1271594
Number of pages7
JournalFrontiers in Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 27 Dec 2023

External IDs

ORCID /0000-0002-6048-6984/work/151436256
Scopus 85182221026


Sustainable Development Goals


  • RTqPCR, SARS-CoV-2, droplet-digital PCR, Sensitivity, Wastewater surveillance