Ask Dr. Nandi: 'No-swab' COVID-19 saliva test begins trials in Britain

Posted at 6:05 PM, Jun 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-22 18:05:49-04

(WXYZ) — A study trial of a new “no-swab” test for COVID-19 is kicking off in Britain. Health officials there say participants are able to collect their saliva sample from the comfort of their own home.

This saliva test has shown itself, so far, to be very promising. It was developed by a British molecular diagnostics company called Optigene. And it’s about to be thoroughly tested in this new trial taking place in southern England.

The trial will run for about four weeks and involves more than 14,000 participants. Each week participants will be sent test vials to their homes or workplaces. They’ll spit into those vials and the samples will be sent off to be analyzed. They’ll get their test results back in about 48 hours.

Now what I like about this trial is that it should spot folks who have the virus but who don’t show any symptoms. So I expect we’ll get some solid data regarding how many folks are actually asymptomatic.

Health officials are predicting that a saliva test will increase testing because it’s easy and way less invasive. And that makes sense.

Swab testing can be extremely uncomfortable, because a swab has to reach to the back of the throat or deep into nasal passages. It can make people gag, cough or sneeze. So I think most folks would prefer to be tested in the safety of their own home and skip driving to a testing site where they might be potentially exposed to the virus.

Right now, up to 20% of swab tests are false negatives – that’s what John Hopkins University has found. And that could be because of the difficulty of swabbing people.

Now swab tests use the standard polymerase chain reaction or PCR method. Whereas this saliva test uses a different technique, called RT-Lamp, to look for genetic material of the coronavirus.

As to how accurate this salvia test will be, well, no data was given. But this trial should help to answer that question. And it’ll also tell us if saliva testing is able to detect cases earlier with routine at-home testing.

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