Dreading the swabs? Introducing saliva based testing

Experts have reiterated over the past few months how testing for COVID-19 is the key to getting back to normal. Currently, the most widespread method of testing for viral presence is the nasopharyngeal swab, which is rather invasive and uncomfortable as it involves poking the back of patients’ nose and throat with a long q-tip up… Medical professionals and researchers all over the world have been looking for alternative ways of testing and might have found a solution: saliva based testing. 

Saliva based testing can be seen as an improvement over the standard nasopharyngeal swab for many reasons: 

  • Firstly, from a supply availability point of view, it overcomes the shortages seen with nasopharyngeal swabs over the past few months, and offers a much more low-cost alternative. 
  • Secondly, the ease of sample collection means individuals can self administer the test and avoid putting themselves or healthcare workers in danger of catching COVID-19. This is particularly relevant for vulnerable patients, be they children or elderly, who may have found administering the swab test a traumatic experience. Trials of the saliva based test have taken place in the US and UK, notably with Rutgers University and the Yale School of Public Health receiving emergency use authorization.
  • Finally, early evidence from the Rutgers test suggests it is just as sensitive, if not more so, than the nasal swabs. The tests yielded fewer false negatives and no false positives in all the samples tested. Similar results were found by the separate research from Yale University. Their results showed that their saliva test may be able to detect the coronavirus (COVID-19) in people who are mildly ill, whilst nasopharyngeal swabs cannot do this. In a real life example of this, the trial saw a healthcare worker testing negative twice using a nasopharyngeal swab before testing positive on the third, whilst being found positive on all three saliva tests. This story was shared by Dr. Wyllie, and highlighted the risk of having healthcare workers that might be asymptomatic continuing to take care of patients and putting them at risk.

Testing For All is looking to be amongst the first providers of saliva based testing in the UK, so watch this space !